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Democrats scoff at Republican offer to return Sunday

SALEM — Democrats scoffed Thursday morning at a Republican offer to end the stalemate at the Capitol by returning Sunday, the last day of the 2020 legislative session.

Republicans have been absent from both the Oregon House and Senate for more than a week to avoid voting on a bill meant to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Their absence stops the Legislature from taking votes. Lawmakers must adjourn by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, March 8.

Republicans said they could come back Sunday to vote on bills that would set aside money for specific purposes. If they don’t come back, lawmakers won’t have enough members to approve that money.

House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby said her caucus would provide a quorum to pass “funding priorities,” including money to address the state’s homelessness crisis, to fight wildfire and manage forests, and for disaster relief and emergency preparedness.

But Democrats were not having it.

“They’re playing games,” said Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, who leads Democrats in the Senate. “I mean, they’ve made this into a power play. And that is revolting. That’s repulsive. You know, they are destroying our democracy. This is not how a democracy works. You don’t have the minority in there dictating the terms of engagement.”

In a letter to Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, Drazan said Republicans would “encourage” the speaker to include money to respond to the growing threat of the coronavirus.

But Kotek said “the only deal” she’d agree to is if Republicans in both the House and Senate came back and “agree to take a floor vote on every bill that has earned support through the public process that governs our legislative body.”

“Republicans from both chambers have walked off the job for two weeks of this five-week session,” Kotek said in a written statement that she read on the floor of the House Thursday morning. “Their intentional absences have created an enormous backlog of bills — bills that will benefit Oregonians across the state.”

“Let me be clear: Every bill that has passed out of committee deserves a vote,” Kotek continued. “I will not walk away from my obligation to every Oregonian that we must uphold the democratic process and the rule of law.”

Drazan’s counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Herman Baertschiger, Jr., of Grants Pass, made a similar overture to Democrats Thursday morning.

“After a tumultuous session, Senate Republicans are willing to attend the Sunday floor session to pass emergency budget bills, for example the relief for flood victims in Eastern Oregon,” Baertschiger said in a statement. “The intent of the short session was to make budget adjustments, and that is what we expect to work on while being fiscally responsible with the hard-earned taxpayer dollars.”

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, in remarks from behind the dais, thanked the senators who were present for Thursday morning’s floor session.

“It’s my understanding Republicans are not going to come here today,” Courtney said. “Thank you, again, for showing up, day after day.”

Both chambers met briefly and recessed until Thursday afternoon.