Senate Republicans Follow Through on Walkout Threat in Protest over Cap and Trade

The Senate Republicans have left the building. Again.

Last week, the members of the minority party left the Capitol building, the capital city and, in at least a few cases, the entire state of Oregon, to block the planned vote on House Bill 2020.

The so-called “cap and trade” bill, which would establish a new, comprehensive carbon emissions policy across the state and virtually all sectors of its economy, was approved by the Oregon House of Representatives earlier in the week and was headed for passage in the Senate.

Representatives of both parties, along with Gov. Kate Brown, engaged in over eight hours of negotiations over proposed amendments to HB 2020, well into Wednesday evening, the night before the planned vote. But a compromise failed to appear, and the next day, so did the Republicans.

As the “superminority,” Republicans are unable to block even a new tax, which requires a two-thirds majority, with their votes alone. But by refusing to show up on the floor, they can deny the Senate the 20-member quorum needed to do business.

It’s the nuclear option, and it’s one they employed successfully earlier in the session to stall the the Student Success Act. The Act ultimately passed, but it came with several concessions from the Democratic majority.

The fact that it happened again was, in the words of Gov. Brown, “extremely unfortunate.”

“It would have been historic for Oregon, historic for the country, and frankly, historic for the world,” she said during a press conference Thursday. “Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have failed to show up and failed to do their jobs.”

For her part, Gov. Brown responded by following through on a threat she’d previously made: To dispatch the Oregon State Police to locate and retrieve the unexcused members of the Senate. This extreme measure is not completely unheard of — it has happened in the past — but it did raise questions whether state troopers were really being asked to round up absent lawmakers, cuff them and stuff them into the backs of patrol cars.

In a press release Thursday, the OSP clarified that they would seek to follow the governor’s order in a “peaceful, gentle, and process-supporting way.”

“OSP is utilizing established relationships to have polite communication with these senators,” the release said. “While we obviously have many tools at our disposal, patience and communication is and always will be our first, and preferred, option. OSP will work with the Governor’s office and members of the Legislature to find the most expeditious way to bring this matter to a peaceful and constructive conclusion.”

Canby’s state representative, Christine Drazan, released a statement on the walkout by her Republican colleagues in the Senate, calling HB 2020 “the most consequential bill of this session.”

“California’s cap and trade plan will harm hard-working families by making Oregon less affordable for everyone — for an imperceptible change in carbon emissions,” she said. “I fought to support bipartisan amendments to the bill when it was in the House and remain hopeful that the Senate’s decision to deny quorum will stop this bad bill and bring the majority party back to the negotiating table to work across the aisle to respond to the outcry from Oregonians who have told us this bill will make it harder for families to live here in Oregon.”

Canby’s state senator, Alan Olsen, did not respond to a request for comment.

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