Republican-led Walkout In Legislature Enters Second Week 

Legislature Salem 2 Ben Botkin.jpg

Climate change is taking a toll: Hospital emergency room visits for heat-related problems are on the rise. Wildfires are also on the rise, leaving people with exacerbated breathing problems.

Those risks and others were discussed during a discussion Monday during a meeting of the House Committee on Health Care. Democrats are pushing a cap-and-trade bill in the Legislature in response to climate change. But as the Republican-led walkout stretches into its second week, they are aware that getting any bill across the finish line is impossible because neither chamber has the required quorum.

The 35-day session must end in less than a week on March 8. 

The walkout is an effort to block a vote – and the expected passage – of a climate change bill that Republicans insist should go to voters. Besides that proposal, Gov. Kate Brown also has made wildfire readiness, response and recovery a key priority for the 2020 session, requesting $200 million to boost the state’s efforts.

“This hearing really was to illustrate we need action on climate change,” said Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego and chair of the committee.

Heat-related emergency room visits in the tri-county region of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington have increased from 13.5 trips per 100,000 people in 2016 to 18.1 in 2018. Trips to emergency rooms for asthma-like symptoms in the tri-county region have also increased as air quality has deteriorated.

“That’s something we continue to learn about as our climate changes,” Brendon Haggerty, a senior research analyst with Multnomah County, told lawmakers.

Air quality problems aren’t limited to the Portland metro area.

In Medford, there were 53 days with poor air quality in 2017 and 2018 because of wildfires. The poor air quality ranged from unhealthy for people with underlying health issues to unhealthy and hazardous for anyone.

“In short, the 2017 and 2018 summers were miserable,” said Jackson  Baures, public health division manager for Jackson County Health and Human Services.

The committee’s meeting was informational, and Republican lawmakers were absent. All Republican lawmakers in both chambers are participating in the walkout, except for Rep. Cheri Helt and Sen. Tim Knopp, both of Bend.

Lawmakers expressed disappointment they cannot move forward on legislation.

“Certainly, we have some bills pending that could address this, we just can’t move them out of either chamber,” Salinas said.

Meanwhile, Democratic and Republican legislative leaders issued statements Monday about the walkout that blamed the other side and gave no indication of any solution, or, for that matter, any behind-the-scenes negotiations.

In a joint statement, Democratic House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney urged Republican lawmakers to return to Salem so that bills and budgets can advance.

“Whether it’s the state’s housing and homelessness crisis or the upcoming wildfire season, there are hundreds of bills currently on hold that would help people, businesses and communities across the state,” they said. “These bills have gone through public hearings, received public testimony, had open debates on amendments and documented committee votes. They deserve floor votes.”

They added:  “We will not be part of closed-door negotiations or last-minute deals. We will not pick and choose which bills will live and which bills will die.

House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, blamed Democratic legislators for not bringing the issue to the people for a vote.

“Oregonians should be disappointed that Democrats have apparently thrown in the towel and refuse to participate in good faith conversations moving forward,” Drazan said in a statement. “We are not asking for secret negotiations or last-minute deals.”

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or on Twitter @BenBotkin1.


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