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Measure to avert legislative walkouts qualifies for Nov. 8 ballot

The Oregon State Capitol in Salem.

Voters will decide on a measure aimed at deterring legislative walkouts by disqualifying lawmakers from seeking re-election if they have 10 or more unexcused absences.

The measure will appear on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot.

The Oregon Elections Division has announced that the proposed constitutional amendment qualified with 155,343 signatures, more than the 149,360 required under the Oregon Constitution. Sponsors submitted 184,680 signatures May 27. Verification is usually done via sampling.

The measure will join two referred by the 2021 Legislature. One would declare health care a right under the Constitution. The other would remove constitutional language allowing slavery, known as "involuntary servitude," as a punishment for crime.

A pending measure would set new requirements for firearms permits and limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds. The deadline for submittal of signatures is Friday. The measure would require 112,020 signatures to qualify, and state officials would have 30 days to verify them.

The Oregon Constitution sets different requirements for signatures to qualify constitutional amendments (8%) and proposed laws (6%), based on the votes cast for governor in the most recent election.

Walkouts prompt action

Oregon is one of only four states that requires more than a simple majority to establish a quorum in each chamber to conduct any business. In Oregon, the Constitution requires the presence of 20 of 30 members in the Senate, and 40 of 60 in the House.

The measure was launched with the support of public employee unions opposed to walkouts by Republican minorities in the 2019, 2020 and 2021 legislative sessions.

Andrea Kennedy-Smith, a welfare worker from McMinnville, is a chief petitioner for the measure.

“If I didn't show up to work or if I made it impossible for other people to do their jobs, I would lose my job,” she said when the signature-gathering drive began last year. “Republican senators even staged a walkout (in 2021) — in the middle of the pandemic — as families were struggling with job loss, extra caregiving duties and the fear of illness just from going to the grocery store. This is why we have to come together and take a stand with these measures.”

Advocates floated other proposals but concentrated on one.

Senate Republicans walked out in 2019 to stall a vote on a proposed corporate activity tax earmarked for school improvements. The vote went ahead after majority Democrats shelved some of their other legislative priorities for the session, and the bill passed despite Republican opposition.

Senate Republicans walked out in 2019, and Senate and House Republicans did so in 2020, to stall votes on proposed climate-change legislation. Senate Republicans returned in 2019 after Democrats announced they did not have the votes to pass it. But in 2020, the walkouts in both chambers prompted Democrats to shut down that session a few days before the deadline — and blocked action on a host of bills, not just climate change. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown then issued an executive order for the Environmental Quality Commission to come up with a plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Senate Republicans walked out again in 2021, but only for a single day — and it was in protest of some of Brown’s executive orders during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the past

House Democrats walked out for a week in 2001, when the Republican majority attempted to pass redistricting plans via resolution, which is not subject to a veto by the governor. Democrats returned after Senate leaders from both parties said they would have nothing to do with the House’s proposed action.

Both chambers, then controlled by Republicans, passed redistricting plans that were vetoed by Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber.

The Supreme Court ruled later in the year, when it largely upheld a legislative redistricting plan drawn up by Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, that legislators could not enact a redistricting plan via resolution, only through the normal process of legislation.

In 1971, during a fight over whether 18-year-olds should be allowed to vote in state elections, Senate Democrats walked out to block an attempt to undo the legislation. Advocates seized their chance when the Senate president became acting governor in the absence of Tom McCall, who was out of state, and could not preside over the Senate. (The line of succession changed in 1972 — the secretary of state is now next in line — and the governor remains governor during out-of-state travels.)

The Senate president was one of two Democrats who joined 14 Republicans in what became the most recent coalition to run the Senate. The coalition lasted from 1957 through 1972.

The legislation passed, just before ratification of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which set the national voting age at 18.

Reach reporter Peter Wong at pwong@pamplinmedia.com.