OR Democrats Vote to Fine Senators 06/02 06:09
SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- Oregon Senate Democrats plan to start fining their
absent colleagues amid a month-long Republican walkout, a move they hope will
pressure boycotting lawmakers to return to the chamber as hundreds of bills
languish amid the partisan stalemate.
In a procedural move Thursday, Democrats voted to fine senators $325 every
time their absence denies the chamber the two-thirds quorum it needs to conduct
business. The amount reflects lawmakers' average daily pay, according to the
office of Democratic Senate President Rob Wagner.
"Oregonians work for a living every day, and they don't get paid when they
don't show up," Wagner said while addressing the Senate. "We have a huge stack
of bills sitting right over there on that cart, just waiting for us to take
them up, to debate and to vote."
The month-long Republican walkout -- the longest-ever in the Oregon
Legislature -- once again prevented the Senate from reaching a quorum on
Thursday. But Democratic Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, citing an article
in the state constitution, requested that the Senate compel absent members to
attend and fine absentees $325 for every day a quorum isn't reached. Her
request was voted on and approved by the other Democrats present on the Senate
The article of the Oregon Constitution cited by Democrats states that even
if two-thirds of members are not present, "a smaller number may meet ... and
compel the attendance of absent members."
Senate Republican Minority Leader Tim Knopp condemned the plan as
Most Republican senators haven't shown up for floor sessions since May 3,
denying quorum and stalling hundreds of bills, including ones on abortion,
gender-affirming care and gun control that have sparked fierce debate in the
Knopp has said Republicans will only return to the Senate on the last day of
the legislative session, June 25, to pass the budget and "bipartisan" bills.
Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek said Wednesday that her talks to end the impasse
have failed and that Knopp wants the bill on abortion and gender-affirming care
to be "substantially amended or dead."
Kotek said negotiating on that measure, which has already passed the House,
is not an option.
After Republicans staged previous walkouts in 2019, 2020 and 2021, voters
last November approved a ballot measure by an almost 70% margin that was
supposed to stop walkouts. Lawmakers with 10 or more unexcused absences would
be disqualified from reelection in the next term, according to the measure's
title and summary.
But the text of the measure says disqualification applies to "the term
following the election after the member's current term is completed."
Republicans are taking that as meaning that boycotters who are up for
reelection in 2024 could be candidates, since their current terms end in
January 2025 -- with the disqualification coming for the 2028 election.
Secretary of State spokesperson Ben Morris said the department is seeking a
legal opinion from the Oregon Department of Justice and will follow its advice.
The Justice Department is currently working on the legal opinion, Roy Kaufmann,
spokesperson for Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, said in an email Wednesday.
Republican senators are expected to file court challenges if the secretary
of state's elections division bars them from registering as candidates in