Oregon Democrats to Propose Bill in 2020 that would Prevent Future Walkouts

Oregon’s 2019 Legislative Session was one for the history books by virtually any measure, and it was also one of the most divisive and contentious we’ve ever seen, marked by not one, but two, walkouts from the Republican caucus in the Senate to delay or prevent bills they — and many Oregonians they represent — found objectionable.

During the longest walkout, which happened near the constitutionally mandated end of the session after compromise negotiations broke down around the planned cap and trade bill, Republican senators left the state capital and, it was rumored, the state, gathering in an undisclosed location in neighboring Idaho to prevent the Oregon State Police from following Gov. Kate Brown’s order to round them up and return them to do business.

It was crazy times, and though the involvement of the OSP certainly got more headlines, it was not the only stick that Democratic leaders attempted to use to coax their Republican counterparts back to the table. Senate President Peter Courtney had also threatened fines of $500 for each day that Republican Senators prevented a quorum in his chamber.

It would have amounted to a cool 3,500 bucks each, but the Dems announced this week they would not be invoicing their 11 colleagues. However, they do plan to introduce a proposed constitutional amendment (which would ultimately be subject to voter approval) to prevent such tactics in the future.

In a press release, Senate Democrats said the bill will “protect Oregon’s democracy by removing the ability of a minority faction to halt the work of the people.”

“Stopping the work of the people by denying a quorum is unconscionable and undemocratic,” said Ginny Burdick, the Senate Majority leader from Portland. “I hope our Republican colleagues now see that this is not a tactic that should ever be used again, and that they will work with us to prevent either party from walking off the job.”

The constitutional amendment to be presented in the 2020 session would require only a simple majority for quorum: 16 members in the Senate and 31 in the House of Representatives — both marks that the Democrats can currently meet without any help from the GOP. Burdick says this is the same quorum requirements now in place in all but three other states.

The current quorum requirement is two-thirds, which means 20 Senators and 40 Representatives must be present to conduct business. The amendment would ultimately be decided by Oregon voters in the 2020 General Election.

Democrats said the decision to back down from the fines was a difficult one, but they ultimately decided it was not worth the litigation and legal fees that would have surely followed.

“The 2019 Legislative Session is over,” Burdick said. “It’s time for us to focus on Oregon’s priorities for 2020 and beyond, and to ensure that we are able to deliver the results that Oregonians are counting on us to produce.”

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