SALEM (AP) - Oregon Senate Democrats are planning to fine their absent colleagues during a Republican walkout that has lasted for a month. They hope this will encourage boycotting legislators to return to the chamber, where hundreds of bills have been left to languish in the partisan stalemate.
Democrats have voted in a procedural motion to fine senators 325 dollars for every absence that prevents the chamber from having the two-thirds majority it needs to do business. According to the office Democratic Senate President Rob Wagner, this amount is based on the average daily salary of lawmakers.
Wagner told the Senate that Oregonians are paid for their work every day and don't receive a paycheck if they don’t show up. We have a large stack of bills on the cart that are just waiting to be taken up, debated and voted.
The Oregon Senate was unable to reach a quorum again on Thursday due to the month-long Republican strike, the longest in Oregon history. Kate Lieber of the Democratic Senate, citing a state constitution article, asked that the Senate force absent members to show up and fine them $325 per day for not reaching a quorum. The other Democrats on the Senate floor voted and approved her request.
According to the article in the Oregon Constitution that Democrats cite, even if the two-thirds are absent, a'smaller number' can meet and force the attendance of the absent members.
Senate Republican Minority leader Tim Knopp condemned this plan as retaliation.
Since May 3, most Republican senators are not present at floor sessions, denying quorum. This has slowed down hundreds of bills including those on abortion, gender affirming care, and gun control, which have caused fierce debates in the Legislature.
Knopp said that Republicans would only return to the Senate to pass a budget bill and bills deemed 'bipartisan" on June 25, the last day of legislative session.
Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek stated Wednesday that her attempts to resolve the impasse failed, and that Knopp wanted the bill regarding abortion and gender affirming care'substantially modified or dead'.
Kotek stated that negotiating this measure, which was already approved by the House, was not an option.
Voters approved by almost 70% a ballot measure in November last year that was intended to end walkouts. According to the title and summary of the ballot measure, lawmakers with 10 or more absences without an excuse would be disqualified for reelection the following term.
The text of the measure states that disqualification is applicable to "the term following an election after the current term has ended." Republicans interpret this to mean that boycotters up for re-election in 2020 could run, as their current terms expire in January 2025. The disqualification would come for the election in 2028.
Ben Morris, spokesperson for the Secretary of State, said that the department will seek a legal opinion and follow the advice of the Oregon Department of Justice. Roy Kaufmann said that the Justice Department was currently working on a legal opinion.