Oregon Climate Bill Is Dead, But Republican Lawmakers Still AWOL

June 28, 2019 by Elin Johnson
The Oregon State Capitol building in Salem, Ore., on October 12, 2018. A planned meeting for Oregon senators on Saturday, June 22, 2019, was canceled amid threats from militia groups, who authorities said intended to demonstrate outside the capitol building in support of 11 Republican lawmakers, likely hiding out in a different state to avoid a vote on climate-change legislation. (Walter Arce/Dreamstime/TNS)

With only days left in Oregon’s legislative session, a Democrat-backed climate bill is dead, and the awol Republican state senators who helped kill it now appear to be considering what to demand before they agree to return.

Last week 11 Republican state senators bolted out of the state Capitol and went into hiding to deny the Democrats the quorum they needed to vote on a cap and trade bill

As it happened, the Democrats were a vote shy of passing the bill anyway, a point they conceded on Wednesday. But that still left the matter of the wandering Republicans, who still want to claim a victory from a stunt that has garnered them international attention.

A spokesman for state Senate Democrats said Thursday “there’s nothing new to report” about the negotiations for the Republican’s return, and published reports suggest some of the wayward GOP lawmakers are now pushing for a delay in a statewide vote on Oregon’s new business tax for education until November 2020.

Both the House and Senate have approved the tax, in a bill called the Student Success Act, and Governor Kate Brown has signed it.

But opponents of the bill, led by the state manufacturers’ alliance, have vowed to gather enough signatures to put the tax up for a public vote. To do that, they need to collect at least 75,000 signatures. If they succeed the tax would be on the November 2020 ballot.

But the Democrats want to move the vote up to January 2020 and had planned to vote on a measure authorizing that date on either Thursday or Friday — all dependent on the Republicans coming back.

Tracked down by the Oregonian newspaper, which reached him in his car is Idaho, Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger hinted at some dissention in his party’s ranks and that internal discussions over what to ask for are “extremely sensitive.”

He also suggested his caucus members may already have backed off the Student Success Act delay, although he wouldn’t say so definitively.

If Democrats were to agree to postpone a vote on the tax until November 2020 to appease Republicans, that could delay the tax from taking effect for nearly a year even if voters approve it.

If that happened, published reports suggest it would cause a $266 million shortfall in the K-12 school budget for the 2019-2020 school year and delay $1 billion in improvements in public schools and early childhood programs slated for 2020-2021.

For her part, Governor Brown has repeatedly said the Senate Republicans have “turned their backs on Oregonians and they are turning their backs on the democratic process.”

In an interview with CBS, Brown said “Oregonians should be furious. This is unacceptable. In Oregon this is not how we solve problems.”

The stand-off has also blown up on Twitter.

The Oregon Senate Republican Twitter account, @Oregonsenators, quoted Brown from her days as the Senate Democratic Leader saying “under certain circumstances, it’s fair to say we would use all tools available to us and stage a similar boycott.” 

This was in reference to a 2001 situation during which House Democrats walked out.

Democratic State Representative Paul Evans then took to Twitter to imply his awol colleagues are terrorists.  

“My own military experience taught me the difference between respectful diplomacy and giving in to terrorists,” Evans wrote adding “negotiating with people who are not invested in shared outcomes … is a dangerous path.”

Earlier this week, Republican Representative E. Wener Reschke and House Republican Leader Carl Wilson of Grants Pass issued a joint statement through the Oregon House Republican Office in which they claimed it wasn’t the GOP that had changed, but the Democrats, who strayed from their longtime centrist traditions.

“HB 2020 was really the straw that broke the camel’s back,” the Republicans said. “But there is a far more fundamental reason for the Senate Republican absence from the State Capitol and that has to do with the strong-arming Democrat leadership who have a supermajority in both House and Senate as well as control the Governor’s office. 

“This absolute control on this legislative process has meant that Democrat leadership could do whatever they want, and indeed they have,” they said.

This legislative session ends on June 30.

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