Legislature starts the home-stretch run at a quick, smooth pace

Republican Senators officially return to the Senate after their walkout. (Claire Withycombe/Oregon Capital Bureau)

SALEM — Twenty-seven senators gathered at 9 a.m. Saturday morning to lay to rest House Bill 2020, the 2019 Legislature’s disruptive attempt to tackle climate change.

Senate Republicans had been boycotting floor proceedings since Thursday, June 20, causing the Legislature’s work to grind to a halt as the Senate didn’t have enough members to meet. On Saturday, they began to trickle back in.

Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. had his “mission accomplished” moment the previous day. But Saturday’s floor session got underway with little fanfare.

Republicans arrived as a group, with Baertschiger leading senators who had returned to the Capitol — including their newest member, Sen. Denyc Boles of Salem — onto the floor as reporters’ cameras snapped. Boles received a standing ovation when Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, announced she is officially the Senate’s newest member.

Not all returned. Sen. Fred Girod of Stayton, who told Oregon Capital Bureau on Tuesday he was in Texas, announced on Facebook that he wasn’t coming back for the end of session. Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, whose chaotic last day in the Capitol included him suggesting state police sent out to bring him in should be “bachelors” and “heavily armed,” was also a no-show. Boquist was officially listed as excused. 

Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, stayed away as well. Linthicum and Girod were officially listed as absent. Baertschiger declined to say where the three were, but said one member might be able to make it back to Salem by the evening

Democrats publicly threw in the towel Tuesday on trying to pass their chief environmental legislation. But it took three days before Baertschiger announced that Republicans would return, having secured the death of a bill they vociferously opposed, and one day more for Baertschiger’s caucus to materialize on the Senate floor.

Before proceeding to any votes, the Senate welcomed Boles, who was appointed to succeed the late Jackie Winters and sworn in Friday.

“We want you to feel very welcome,” Courtney said. “We’re very pleased you’re here.”

Immediately afterward, Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick offered a motion to send HB 2020 to a committee, a procedural maneuver to consign the bill to death. Ten Democrats, protesting the plan’s demise, voted against doing so. They were 10 of the more liberal and shorter-tenured members among the Senate Democrats. 

Gov. Kate Brown personally pushed for House Bill 2020 and in more optimistic moments, some officials talked of getting the bill to Brown by Earth Day in April. But the legislation never picked up any cross-party support, and over the past several weeks, it became clear that more Democratic senators than originally expected had reservations.

When Courtney announced Tuesday morning from the Senate dais that he didn’t have the votes to pass the bill, dozens of climate activists in the galleries overlooking the Senate floor stood and turned their backs.

Some Republicans, including Girod, suggested in interviews that even with HB 2020 dead, they wanted to extract more policy concessions from Democrats. But Baertschiger told reporters Friday that the point of the walkout had been to stop the climate bill, and that goal had been fulfilled.

Baertschiger voted Saturday to quicken the pace at which bills could be considered by not requiring every bill be read in its entirety.

The first hour moved quickly, as lawmakers took up a mix of budget and policy bills. Senators gave speeches generally lasting less than a minute there was no debate.

For the remaining hours of the session, the test will be if lawmakers can continue to play nice with each other while enduring two days of marathon floor sessions. Tensions are high, and several lawmakers have said they don’t see a way to mend the broken relationships.

Anthony Smith, Oregon state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, was among the dozen or so lobbyists watching the Senate proceedings on a TV in a waiting area outside of the chamber.

“Just watching as a spectator, making sure nothing happens that’s out of the ordinary,” Smith said. 

Reporter Aubrey Wieber: [email protected] or 503-575-1251. Reporter Claire Withycombe: [email protected] or 971-304-4148. Reporter Mark Miller: [email protected] or 503-913-0450

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