GOP-led Senate walkout keeps dozens of bills hanging in the balance

The Republican-led Senate walkout continued Wednesday, stalling votes on dozens of bills — including some with GOP sponsors — that would help poverty-stricken schoolchildren, elderly veterans and Oregonians seeking housing.

The walkout jeopardizes legislative priorities for everyone from Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek to rank-and-file Republican senators who are participating in the boycott.

Stalled bills with GOP Senate sponsors cut across a wide swath of issues. They include proposals to fund a veterans home in Roseburg, allow more Oregonians to pump their own gas and start a pilot program to help homeless students. 

Kotek’s stalled priorities include bills that would enable the Oregon Department of Education to hold public schools more accountable for their academic performance and allow housing developers to quickly navigate the red tape of land use and zoning ordinances, bolstering the state’s supply of housing units. Kotek also said the Senate needs to pass proposals that would increase early literacy of schoolchildren.

“It’s not just the money, but it’s the policy support to make progress on housing and homelessness, behavioral health and early literacy,” Kotek told reporters.

Budget work remains

On the budget front, lawmakers armed with the revenue forecast released Wednesday can start to map out final budget figures and decide what new projects and proposals should get cash. They will have hundreds of millions more for the budget than anticipated in March because of healthy tax revenues. 

Kotek’s budget priorities include $316 million for homelessness prevention, $280 million for behavioral health and $120 million for a literacy initiative.

For the budget to become a reality, both the House and the Senate would need to pass budget bills – and the walkout would need to end.

However, it’s unclear when that may happen. Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said in a statement that Republicans are willing to pass bipartisan budget bills – if Senate Democrats abandon their agenda.

“Senate Republicans have been clear that we are willing to pass substantially bipartisan budgets and bills that comply with the law,” Knopp said.

Meanwhile, Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, urged the Republicans to return to work and take advantage of the surplus money to improve schools, provide job training and provide access to health care.

Senate Republicans have said they are not showing up for floor sessions because the Legislature is passing bills that don’t comply with a state law that requires summaries to be written at an eighth-grade reading level. But Republican leaders also have said Democratic senators need to withdraw proposals they oppose, including House Bill 2002, a bill that would expand reproductive health access so minors of any age could get an abortion without parental consent.

Republicans also are opposed to House Bill 2005, which would increase the minimum age to buy most firearms from 18 to 21 years old and allow local government agencies to ban firearms in public buildings.

Status of the Senate

The Senate on Wednesday hit its 12th day without the required 20 of 30 members needed to do work.

After the floor session, Wagner told the Capital Chronicle he had a meeting  with Knopp set for that day. 

Asked if he’s optimistic, Wagner said: “I believe in the process and (am) always hopeful.”

Eighteen of the 30 senators showed up, just two members short of the two-thirds quorum needed to conduct business. Of the 12 absent senators, 10 had unexcused absences. 

Already, four senators have reached the threshold of 10 unexcused absences, which disqualifies them from serving another term of office. None hit the 10-absence mark on Wednesday, but Knopp and Republican Sens. Lynn Findley of Vale, Bill Hansell of Athena, Kim Thatcher of Keizer, Art Robinson of Cave Junction and Suzanne Weber of Tillamook will reach that point if the walkout continues Thursday.

Republican bills await votes

Republican-sponsored bills impact a range of needs.

They include: 

  • Senate Bill 1009, which would fund $35 million for a veterans home that would provide long-term care in Roseburg.
  • Senate Bill 695, which would make $4 million available in grants to train public school staff in de-escalation and crisis interventions for students.
  • Senate Bill 658, which would start a pilot program to help seven school districts reach, shelter and educate homeless children.
  • Senate Bill 431, which appropriates $125 million to the Port of Hood River to fund the reconstruction of the aging Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge, which extends over 4,400 feet across the Columbia River and connects Hood River with White Salmon, Washington.
  • House Bill 2127, which would allow Pendleton to apply to the Land Conservation and Development Commission to become part of an affordable housing pilot program.
  • House Bill 2420, which would require the Oregon Health Authority to research ways to make access to birth and death certificates equitable and fair in cost.

Senior reporter Julia Shumway contributed to this report.

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Ben Botkin - Oregon Capital Chronicle

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report. Botkin has won multiple journalism awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.