Oregon Capitol

The Oregon Capitol in Salem, where a Senate walkout has slowed proceedings this week.

UPDATED Monday, May 8, 11:45 a.m. - Developing

The Oregon Senate failed on Monday to have enough senators on the floor to create a quorum to do any business. It was the sixth straight day that the minimum number of 20 was not present.

Republicans have kept no more than two members on the floor during each session. Combined with 16 Democratic senators, the total of 18 lawmakers leaves the Senate two short of the Oregon constitution's requirement of a two-thirds majority - 20 in the Senate.

Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, called another session for Tuesday morning. 

Republicans have organized the walkout to stop consideration of HB 2002, an abortion access and transgender rights bill approved by the House. Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, was not on the Senate floor on Monday. He said at the beginning of the 2023 session that Republicans were opposed to Democrats' plans on abortion, gun control and rent control. Republicans recently added claims that the reading level of legislative analysis of the bills produced for lawmakers was above the approximately 8th-grade reading level required by a 1979 law. A Marion District Court judge last week declined to hear a petition by Sen. Suzanne Weber, R-Tillamook backed by a House Republican lawmaker and the advocacy group Oregon Right To Life arguing that the Senate should not consider HB 2002 until court challenges on the reading level issues were heard. 

Under a new law approved by voters in November 2022, lawmakers who have 10 or more unexcused absences are barred from running for re-election. No senator has hit the threshold, but several have five absences. 

One senator from each party is on a long-term excused absence due to medical issues: Sen. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, and Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton.

Last week, some senators had excused absences, including Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, who was in Boardman with Gov. Tina Kotek visiting areas where nitrate levels in the water have made residents ill.

Excused absences are at the discretion of the presiding officers of each chamber - Wagner in the Senate and Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, in the House. Wagner said he would no longer approve excused absences barring a major personal or medical issue until the Senate reaches a quorum. 

(This story is developing)

Another Senate walkout and a legal setback marked the second day of Republican attempts to stall a final vote on an abortion access and transgender health rights bill now in the Oregon Senate.

House Bill 2002 was approved by the House on Monday and sent to the Senate. In a repeat of Wednesday's action, five Republican-aligned senators were again absent Thursday without a prior excuse - a violation of Senate rules. 

The absences, along with seven excused senators, left the chamber with 16 Democrats and two Republicans in attendance. The Oregon constitution requires 20 members be present for a quorum to do any business. 

Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, then adjourned the chamber until Friday at noon. The Legislature usually leaves Fridays open for lawmakers to return to their districts for a long weekend. The House met on Thursday and is not scheduled for another floor session until next week.

Democratic leaders in the Legislature have previously said they would schedule sessions on weekends if necessary in an effort to overcome Republican efforts to slow or stop proceedings. 

Under a new law approved by voters as Measure 113 in November, any lawmaker with 10 unexcused absences would be barred from running for re-election.

Capitol and courts are stages for political power play

Republicans have argued that bills up for consideration violate a 1979 law requiring that legislative summaries be written in plain language so they can be understood by someone with an eighth-grade education.

"The bills that are being passed by the majority do not meet the requirements of the Oregon Constitution, Senate Rules, and Oregon law," Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, reiterated Thursday in an afternoon e-mail to subscribers of his constituent newsletter. "When this was brought to the attention of the majority, they decided it was inconvenient for them to follow the law and attempted to continue passing unlawful bills."

But a Marion County Circuit Court judge rejected a petition by two state lawmakers and a major anti-abortion group to block Senate consideration of HB 2002 because of the plain language law. 

Sen. Suzanne Weber, R-Tillamook, Rep. Emily McIntire of Eagle Point, R-Eagle Point, and the group Oregon Right to Life filed the petition following Senate action on Tuesday in which Weber objected to bills she said violated the plain language law. Wagner overruled her objection, citing a non-partisan Legislative Counsel's Office opinion that the summaries are written in language that has been the standard for at least two decades. 

Marion County Circuit Judge David Leith denied the petition by Weber, McIntire, and Oregon Right to Life on Thursday. He told the petitioners' lawyers he doubted the court had jurisdiction to stop a decision by the Legislature's elected officers. Leith also expressed doubts that if he allowed the case to go forward that a verdict against the Legislature was possible.

“I don’t see any likelihood of success in persuading the court … to enjoin that legislative function,” Leith said, according to a report from the courtroom by Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, issued a statement Thursday afternoon calling the Republican walkout "deliberate, organized, somewhat cynical" since voters in November approved legislation to punish walkouts with the possibility of lawmakers being barred from seeking another term.

"Senate Democrats remain committed to hearing and voting on HB 2002, along with all the other important bills that remain to be passed," Dembrow wrote.

Senate quorum fail features same line-up on second day

The list of present, excused and absent for the Senate roll call on Thursday was the same as Wednesday. 

Sixteen Democrats were in attendance, with Sen. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, excused due to illness. 

Of 12 Republicans, two were again present: Knopp and Sen. Dick Anderson, R-Lincoln City.

Four Republican senators were again absent without an excuse approved by Wagner: Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls, Lynn Findley of Vale, Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, and Cedric Hayden of Roseburg. Also absent was Sen. Brian Boquist of Dallas, an Independent originally elected as a Republican who left the party but remains a reliably GOP-leaning vote.

Six other senators had been excused by Wagner's office, including Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, who was in Morrow County to meet with Gov. Tina Kotek about water pollution issues in the area. Weber was also among the excused.

If Republican lawmakers hit the Measure 113 limit of 10 unexcused absences, Republicans are expected to challenge the constitutionality of the law barring their bids for re-election.

Even if upheld, any punishment would not go into affect until the lawmaker next runs for the same office. House members run every two years, while senators serve four years, with half of the seats on the ballot every two years. A senator elected in 2022 who hits the maximum number of absences would still serve out their term and be barred from seeking the same position in 2026.

Committees hurry to beat deadline on Friday

While the absence of the senators is keeping the Senate from meeting for final votes on legislation, Senate committees continued to meet, hold hearings and voting to send bills to the Senate floor. The majority Democrats appoint all Senate committee chairs and the panels have a Democratic majority unaffected by the two-thirds quorum rule for floor sessions.

Friday is the deadline for policy bills in their second chamber (House bills in the Senate, Senate bills in the House) to be scheduled for committee vote. The "work sessions" must occur by May 19.

Bills that are not scheduled for a hearing by Friday will be dead for the session.

Of the more than 2,900 bills and resolutions introduced in the Legislature this year, about two-thirds have already died following the April 4 deadline to have committee action in the first chamber.

So far, just under 30 bills have passed both chambers and been signed into law by Kotek.

The scheduling of work sessions is a decision by committee chairs and is largely unaffected by the walkouts that have stalled bills already on the Senate floor. A prolonged walkout would bring into question whether House bills still to be sent to the Senate could be accepted - what is known as first reading - and assigned to committees. 

The deadline does not affect all bills. Each chamber's Revenue and Rules committees are exempt from the deadline and an increasing number of bills have been sent there for consideration. All 11 joint committees - which include members drawn from both the Senate and House - are also exempt from the deadlines. Most of the work on the 2023-24 state budget is done in the Joint Ways & Means Committee.

The key deadline is June 25 - that's when the 160 days of session allowed by the Oregon Constitution expires and the session must adjourn and all bills die. A special session could be called to consider major leftover issues, but all legislation would have to start over again

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(6) comments


HB 2002 allows gender affirming care to be prescribed for 15 yr. olds without notifying parent.


HB 2002 is a lot more than abortion. To call the Bill that is misleading, lying. I support the Republican's effort.


This walkout was to also stop HB 2005-B, the unconstitutional anti-gun bill that would among other things strip 18-20 years of their 2nd amendment rights based solely on their age.


I'm very discouraged that we elect legislators with reading abilities no greater than an eighth grade child.


It’s for the general public, not the legislators.


You are correct.

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