SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Republican state senators in Oregon didn’t show up to work on Wednesday, denying the Democrats who control the chamber a quorum and casting doubt on planned votes later this week on legislation pertaining to gun control, abortion rights and gender-affirming health care.
The office of Democratic Senate President Rob Wagner said 10 Republican senators and the chamber’s lone independent were absent, and that four of the Republicans and the independent were absent without an excuse. The so-called walkout prevented the state Senate from having a quorum and holding its scheduled session.
Senate Republicans said they were protesting over bill summaries not being written in plain language. They based their boycott on a 1979 state law that requires summaries of bills to be readable by those with an eighth or ninth-grade education, said GOP Senate minority leader Tim Knopp.
Asked if the Republican boycott was due to the bills on gun control and abortion and gender-affirming care, Knopp said, “It’s about every bill. But those bills specifically also don’t qualify under this law, and they refuse to fix them.”
Democrats weren’t hearing it, saying they thought the moves were aimed at delaying votes on those bills, which would be passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
“It wasn’t happenstantial that when we were about to consider those bills, that was when we saw people walking off the job,” Wagner said during a news conference.
GOP lawmakers employed the same strategy in 2019 and 2020 to freeze legislation on capping greenhouse gas emissions, among other things. But this walkout could test a new voter-approved measure that bans lawmakers who have 10 or more unexcused absences from running for reelection.
Oregon has a two-thirds quorum rule, meaning that the state House and Senate need two-thirds of their members to be present to conduct business.
The state Senate needs 20 of its 30 members present to have a quorum. Currently, 17 senators are Democrats, 12 are Republicans and one is an independent.
If Republican senators deny a quorum for the rest of the legislative session, which doesn’t end until late June, they could theoretically kill the bills on gun control, abortion rights and gender-affirming care. However, lawmakers who have more than 10 unexcused absences would be barred from running for reelection.
Knopp said the Republicans’ legislative director discovered the 1979 law requiring bills to be easily understandable while doing research last month. He said he didn’t know when bill summaries were held to the law’s standards, but now that it has been brought to the attention of both parties, all bill should conform to them.
“We can’t have our highest presiding officers picking and choosing which rules and which laws they’re going to obey,” Knopp said at a news conference.