Stalemate continues in Oregon Senate, threatening budget and other bills

SALEM — The stalemate between Republicans and Democrats in the Oregon Senate continued Monday morning.

No resolution was publicly apparent, as Republicans continue their protest of House Bill 2020, which would establish a market system to cap the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

They contend the bill could economically harm the rural communities they represent.

Democratic Senators met briefly both Monday and Sunday morning, after canceling an expected meeting Saturday due to what legislative leaders were told was a “credible threat” from a militia group.

The Senate’s 11 Republicans reportedly remain out of the state.

There are 18 Democrats, all of whom were present Monday.

But the Senate needs 20 members to meet.

“We have 18 here and we need two more,” said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, in a brief speech before saying that the Senate would recess for a time Monday.

Gov. Kate Brown has asked the Oregon State Police to track down wayward Republicans so that the Senate could meet and vote on the greenhouse gas bill.

State troopers can’t collect the senators once they’ve crossed the state’s borders, but the State Police said last week said they were using “out of state resources” without elaborating.

Republicans said Sunday that they’re holding firm.

“My caucus and I continue to stand firm and remain out of the state,” said Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., of Grants Pass, in a written statement. “We are working for our constituents and all Oregonians. Thank you to everyone who has expressed support.”

And while much national attention has been paid to the Republicans’ sprint out of the state, their late-session departure from the Senate could have serious consequences for Oregonians, from community college students to young parents, said Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland.

Steiner Hayward is one of three state lawmakers who lead the main budget-writing committee. She and her colleagues determine how much money state agencies will get in the next two years.

The House and Senate passed what’s called a “continuing resolution,” which will fund state government at current levels until Sept. 15 if they’re unable to pass the rest of their budgets by the legislative deadline of June 30 — when state lawmakers must pack up and go home.

Brown plans to sign that bill, according to her office.

But that bare-bones budget would throw a wrench into plans to provide more money for key programs, Steiner Hayward said, giving the example of a program that helps pregnant women get and stay sober by pairing them with peer recovery mentors who are also trained as doulas.

Programs like that keep moms and their babies healthy, and keep kids out of foster care, setting the children up for better long-term outcomes and saving the state future money, Steiner Hayward said.

Funding boosts for infrastructure projects, to tackle summer wildfires and build new buildings such as federally-qualified health centers, could be in jeopardy as well.

And reforms to the state’s costly pension system, contained in yet-another controversial proposal, Senate Bill 1049, couldn’t be implemented because the PERS agency wouldn’t have the extra money it needs to make the changes to the highly complex system.

Other policy bills — such as an increased tax on tobacco products to pay for health care and a bill aimed at increasing the supply of affordable housing through zoning — hang in the balance.

With the Senate paralyzed by the Republican walkout, as of the end of last week, 67 bills that have passed the House are in limbo, according to the House clerk’s office.

Of those, 29 are policy bills that were introduced or co-sponsored by Republicans, were carried on the House floor by Republicans, or both.

Virtually all of those bills, except for HB 2020 and a campaign finance bill that was pronounced dead in the Senate earlier this month, passed the House with bipartisan support.

Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, acknowledged he is concerned about those bills’ fate if the Senate isn’t able to meet.

“There are many, many bills still caught up in the process that would die,” he said Friday. “There is a big, huge cost to not getting these issues resolved. And we are all aware of it.”

At the same time, he added, “We would not have walked out if we were worried about those more than we’re worried about this cap-and-trade bill.”

Reporter Claire Withycombe: [email protected] or 971-304-4148. Withycombe is a reporter for the East Oregonian working for the Oregon Capital Bureau, a collaboration of EO Media Group, Pamplin Media Group, and Salem Reporter.

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