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Updated: Democratic Lawmakers Declare Session Over

Oregon State Capitol in Salem. | RENAUDE HATSEDAKIS
March 5, 2020

Updated at 3:23 p.m.Thursday, March 5, 2020

Democratic legislative leaders declared the session over on Thursday, blaming the failure on Republican lawmakers who walked out to prevent a quorum and kill a cap-and-trade bill.

In separate floor speeches, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Senate President Peter Courtny, D-Salem, expressed sadness and frustration that the walkout has prevented the Legislature from passing anything of substance, including budget bills. 

The next step will involve legislative leaders convening an emergency board meeting, which doesn’t need Republicans, to issue funding for the state’s pressing needs.

“This is the new expectation of how you kill a bill,” Courtney said in his floor speech, later adjourning the Senate “sadly, tragically without a quorum.”

“This is a failed session,” Courtney added, warning that it sets a bad precedent. 

In the House, Kotek also declared the session over, calling it a "hostage situation."

“What the Republicans have done is cheat,” Kotek said. “They have not played by the rules. ... We have been held hostage by a small group of elected representatives."

The end to the session came several hours after Republican lawmakers offered to return to Salem on Sunday, the final day, to pass budget bills.

They left Salem last week to avoid voting on a climate change bill that has drawn fierce criticism in rural parts of Oregon. Nearly all Republican lawmakers from the Senate and House have walked out, preventing both chambers from having the two-thirds quorum required to meet and pass bills.

Earlier in the day, Kotek said Republicans need to do more than meet on the last day to pass budget bills. She blasted them for their “intentional absences” and attempt to “cherry pick which bills live and die.”

The Republicans had suggested earlier in the day that their offer could resolve the impasse.

“After a tumultuous session, Senate Republicans are willing to attend the Sunday floor session to pass emergency budget bills, for example, the relief for flood victims in Eastern Oregon,” Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, said in a statement. “The intent of the short session was to make budget adjustments, and that is what we expect to work on while being fiscally responsible with the hard-earned taxpayer dollars."

On the House side, Republican Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, told Kotek in a letter that her party agrees with the Democratic funding priorities, including housing and homelessness, behavioral health services and family support services and disaster relief and emergency preparedness. 

“We would encourage you to include necessary funding to provide resources to support local efforts to prevent, treat and contain COVID-19 here in Oregon,” Drazan wrote.

The 35-day legislative session must end by midnight on Sunday night. The offer to return and pass budget bills comes after more than a week of blistering criticism from Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Kate Brown.

In remarks from the Senate floor Thursday morning, Courtney said that senators were going to recess until 2:30 p.m. Without mentioning the Republican offer, he said having senators there was important. 

“I really need all of you here,” Courtney said. “I’m just going to ask you please to come back.  It's a difficult day in the history of the Oregon Legislature."

Last year, Senate Republicans walked out to protest the first cap-and-trade bill, returning only after a brokered deal in which Democrats abandoned legislation on gun control and vaccinations.

The end of the session effectively kills a number of health care and human services initiatives, including setting aside more than $100 million to fight homelessness and provide affordable housing. Another bill would have provided $15.3 million to continue federal pilot program for behavioral health clinics, most of them in rural Oregon and generate another $62.9 million for the clinics.

And other proposals would have created a family treatment court program to keep parents and children together and would have capped out-of-pocket costs for insulin to $100 a month.

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