Last Thursday Oregon Senate President Rob Wagner, a Democrat from Lake Oswego, agreed to a request from the minority leader to have the Senate not meet on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday after a nine-day GOP walkout.
An Oregon Capital Chronicle story says:
The three-day break gives Wagner and Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, a chance to work out differences before any senators rack up 10 unexcused absences. Legislators cannot qualify to run for reelection if they have 10 or more unexcused absences because of a voter-approved constitutional amendment that passed in 2022.
...“It is my hope that this will give us time to work out a legitimate agreement that will benefit all Oregonians,” Knopp said. “I have communicated that I will be available over the weekend to have these critical discussions.”
Knopp told the Capital Chronicle that Republicans want 20 bills set aside, including on abortion, guns and transgender health care.
So far, three senators have nine absences: Republican Sens. Daniel Bonham, The Dalles, Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls and Independent Brian Boquist of Dallas.
I think it's a mistake for Democrats to reward Senate Republicans with negotiations. Legislators are supposed to show up for work, not walkout. "Do your job" is the only thing the GOP senators should be hearing from Democrats in the Senate.
What's especially irritating about what Wagner did in cancelling the Friday-Sunday legislative sessions, after holding sessions the previous Friday and weekend, is that Oregonians overwhelmingly voted by a 68-32 margin for Measure 113 last November.
That measure says that if a state legislator has ten unexcused absences from floor sessions, they're disqualified from running for re-election at the end of their term.
Since over two-thirds of voters supported this, it's mystifying why Wagner felt he should negotiate with Republicans the day before three senators were going to hit the ten-day limit. It seems to me that Wagner should have let them be disqualified from running for office again.
That would have demonstrated how seriously Democrats take the walkout and also shown respect for the will of the voters who passed Measure 113.
If Senate Republicans are able to get some bills killed that are Democrat priorities, this will embolden them to keep on staging walkouts. Since most GOP senators probably are in safe Republican districts, even if some senators are disqualified from running again, their GOP replacement can repeat the walkout in the next legislative session.
One small bit of leverage Senate Republicans had was a threat to take Measure 113 to court in hopes that it would be declared unconstitutional. If that happened, they could walkout in this session without suffering any consequences.
But Willamette Week has reported that a top Portland law firm has issued an opinion saying that Measure 113 appears to be constitutional. Here's an excerpt from the story, "As AWOL GOP Senators Consider Challenging New Attendance Law, Legal Memo Says They Have No Case."
As a walkout by Oregon Senate Republicans nears the end of its second week and butts up against the allowed maximum of 10 unexcused absences for some members, progressive groups have sought a legal opinion on whether a potential court challenge to that absence cap might succeed.
The short answer in the memo WW obtained: It’s unlikely.
“It is our conclusion that Measure 113 on its face does not violate the First Amendment rights of free speech and protest, nor the right to run for elective office,” wrote Misha Isaak and Whitney Brown, lawyers at the Stoel Rives firm, in a May 11 memo. “Accordingly, it is likely to survive constitutional challenge.” (Isaak was counsel to former Gov. Kate Brown before returning to private practice.)
So Senate Democrats better not cave to Republican demands to kill gun control, abortion, and transgender health care bills. If they want to walkout over these bills, let a bunch of GOP senators be disqualified from running again.
Sure, their replacements probably will be Republicans also, but at least the senators with ten unexcused absences will be punished for walking out. Of course, the real solution to walkouts is to change the legislative quorum rule from requiring 2/3 of legislators to be present to a simple majority. Oregon is only one of a handful of states that has a 2/3 quorum requirement.
But this is in the state constitution, I'm pretty sure, so would require a vote of the people to change.