Senate Dems Introduce Fines to Curb Future Walkouts

Oregon state senators who walk out on the job could face fines of up to $151 per day under a new proposal from Democrats seeking to quell future walkout protests.

Introduced on Thursday, the proposed fine equals the per diem allowance that state lawmakers receive to cover the costs of working in Salem during the session, including meals and housing.

If the proposed change to the Senate’s chamber rules is approved, it would allow Senate President Peter Courtney, a Democrat, to levy the fine against members who fail to show up for floor sessions without being excused.

The fine was proposed in response to Senate Republicans’ most recent walkout earlier this month, which was in protest of the governor’s leadership during the pandemic and what they described as the state’s failed vaccine rollout for seniors.

Legislative sessions were derailed by lengthy Republican walkouts in 2019 and 2020 over the cap-and-trade bill and other controversial proposals favored by the Democratic supermajority.

Though Democrats enjoy comfortable two-thirds majorities in both chambers that would allow them to pass any legislation — even tax increases — without a single vote from the GOP, Republicans hold just enough seats that their absence can prevent a quorum.

And without a quorum, the Legislature cannot legally do business, including voting on bills.

The tactic has increasingly frustrated Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner, who called the walkouts “unacceptable” and “an affront to democracy” in a statement supporting the proposed rule change this week.

“Oregonians aren’t paid when they don’t show up for work,” he said. “It is unprofessional to walk out on the job and unethical to accept daily expenses when you didn’t show up for work — and stopped others from doing their jobs. …

“The centerpiece of legislative service is showing up on the Senate floor to do the people’s work. State senators receive daily — taxpayer-funded — pay for fulfilling this basic responsibility. If they are unwilling to fulfill that responsibility, they should not receive that pay.”

Not surprisingly, Wagner’s Senate colleagues from across the aisle did not take kindly to his characterization.

In his own statement, Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod, of Lyons, accused Democrats of holding their own “walkouts” by scheduling minimal floor sessions this year due to the ongoing pandemic.

“We have important work to do this session, but it is being held up by the Democrats,” Girod countered. “Oregonians deserve better than these performative gestures to appease radicals in their own party.”

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