Republican senators, do your jobs
Oregon’s Republican senators have decided to thumb their noses at majority Democrats by walking off the job and fleeing the state to avoid arrest. They will accomplish nothing beyond an empty gesture, and could wind up seeing bills they had managed to kill resurrected.
The walkout came over House Bill 2020, the cap-and-trade measure that would charge polluting industries by the ton for the greenhouse gases they emit and devote the proceeds to adapting the state to the impacts of climate change and reducing its carbon footprint. Republicans say the bill will have a disproportionate impact on the rural areas of the state that they represent, will increase gas prices and cost jobs because employers will leave.
The bill passed the House with two Democrats joining all Republicans in voting no. In the Senate, two Democrats were opposing the bill as of last week, meaning it would pass the upper chamber with a simple majority.
Republicans also say the bill amounts to a tax, which would require a three-fifths majority to pass under the Oregon Constitution. Democrats disagree, citing an opinion from the Legislature’s attorney.
Republicans could have held their noses, waited for the bill to pass and then gone to court over that issue. Instead, they opted to leave, denying the quorum of 20 senators necessary to conduct business. Gov. Kate Brown sent the Oregon State Police to find them and bring them back, but OSP has no jurisdiction outside Oregon, and several members opted to leave the state.
As long as the walkout lasts, the climate vote won’t happen. But that’s not all. The Legislature must finish adopting the budget by June 30 or state agencies that have not had funding approved would have to shut down. Lawmakers have enacted an emergency funding bill to let them spend money remaining in their current budgets, but that’s temporary.
Other bills still waiting for action include one allowing denser urban development to address the housing crisis, paid family leave and measures to address sexual harassment in the Capitol.
Republicans walked out once before this session, returning after the Democrats agreed to pull a gun-control bill and a controversial measure to end non-medical exemptions to mandatory child vaccinations. In return, Republicans agreed they would not walk out again.
They just broke that promise.
Brown has said she is planning for a special session to begin July 2. That would mean all bills would have to be reintroduced and go through the committee process, and expediting that would require Republicans’ cooperation. Republicans have said they would return for a special session to address budgets, but little beyond that.
Republicans don’t have the votes to defeat the climate bill because they didn’t win enough seats. They have chosen to refuse to do the job they were elected to do. If a special session becomes necessary, that will cost state taxpayers money every day the Legislature meets after June 30.
Republican senators should come back, face the music and act like the responsible adults they are supposed to be.