Oregon Democrats vote to fine absentee senators amid GOP walkout

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Senate Democrats plan to begin fining absentee colleagues during a month-long Republican strike, a move they hope will spur lawmakers to boycott return to the chamber as hundreds of bills languish amid partisan gridlock.

In a procedural move Thursday, Democrats voted to fine senators $325 each time their absence deprives the chamber of the two-thirds quorum it needs to conduct its business. The amount reflects the average daily salary of lawmakers, according to the office of Democratic Senate Speaker 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 pile of bills sitting over there on this cart, just waiting for us to pick them up, debate them and vote on them.”

The month-long Republican strike — the longest in Oregon Legislative history — once again prevented the Senate from reaching a quorum on Thursday. But Democratic Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, citing a section of the state constitution, demanded that the Senate compel absentee members to attend and fine absentees $325 for each day quorum is reached. is not reached. His request was voted on and approved by the other Democrats present in the Senate.

The section of the Oregon Constitution cited by the Democrats states that even if two-thirds of the members are not present, “a smaller number may meet … and compel the presence of the absent members”.

Senate Republican Minority Leader Tim Knopp condemned the plan as retaliatory.

Most Republican senators have failed to show up for floor sessions since May 3, denying a quorum and stalling hundreds of bills, including those on abortion, gender-affirming care and gun control. fire which sparked fierce debate in the Legislative Assembly.

Knopp said Republicans would not return to the Senate until 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 had failed and that Knopp wanted the gender-affirming abortion and care bill to be “substantially changed or dead.”

Kotek said negotiating on this 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 a nearly 70% margin that was supposed to stop the walkouts. Lawmakers with 10 or more unjustified absences would be disqualified from re-election in the next term, according to the title and summary of the measure.

But the text of the measure says the disqualification applies to “term following the election after the end of the member’s current term.” Republicans take this to mean that boycotters who win re-election in 2024 could be candidates, since their current term ends in January 2025 – with the upcoming disqualification for the 2028 election.

The secretary of state’s spokesman, Ben Morris, said the department was seeking legal advice from the Oregon Department of Justice and would follow its advice. The Justice Department is currently working on the legal opinion, Roy Kaufmann, spokesman for Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, said in an email on Wednesday.

Republican senators are expected to file legal challenges if the secretary of state’s electoral division prevents them from registering as candidates in September.

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