Impasse In Salem Continues As Mandatory Adjournment Nears
There will be no behind-closed-door negotiations.
No last-minute deals.
No political horsetrading.
And Democrats do not plan to send a cap-and-trade bill to the ballot.
The impasse between Oregon's Democrats and Republicans over a sweeping climate change bill continued Monday, stretching into the sixth day in the Senate and the fifth day in the House, and threatened to derail the rest of the legislative session.
During the 2019 legislative session, when Republicans in the Senate walked out two different times, Democrats struck a deal that brought them back to the Capitol. During the first walkout, Democrats sacrificed bills strengthening the state’s gun and vaccine laws. To entice Republicans back into the building the second time, Democrats tossed a previous version of the cap-and-trade bill that they said didn't have enough votes to pass.
This time around, the both parties have taken a harder stance. Under the state Constitution, lawmakers have until midnight on March 8 to pass the state’s budgets and adjourn.
But Republicans are refusing to show up unless the cap-and-trade bill is sent to voters. Democrats hold the supermajority in both chambers, but still need two Republicans in each chamber for a quorum to legally be able to conduct business. Democrats, so far, have signaled they are unwilling to refer the measure to the ballot.
"We will not be part of closed-door negotiations or last-minute deals. We will not pick and choose which bills will live and which bills will die,” House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Sen. President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said in a statement Monday.
And in a letter to Republicans over the weekend, Kotek said she is determined to see the cap-and-trade bill passed by the Legislature.
“There has been strong compromise to reach the framework of a climate action program contained in Senate Bill 1530 (the cap-and-trade bill),” Kotek said. “Republican members’ amendments were considered in the appropriate committees again this session. They were not ultimately adopted, but they were considered. That is how the process works.”
House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, of Canby, said Democrats are throwing in the towel and refusing to participate in "good faith conversations."
“We are not asking for secret negotiations or last-minute deals. We have repeatedly and publicly asked the majority party to allow the people of Oregon to vote on the cap-and-trade bill and to limit the scope of bills to those consistent with the intent of voter approved short sessions," Drazan wrote in a statement. "Opportunities for bipartisanship continue to exist if Democratic leaders are willing to work together.”
Sen. Dallas Heard, a Republican from Roseburg who has left the Capitol, said he will only come back once Democrats put the measure to voters.
"It's amazing to me that this is such a difficult bridge for them to cross," Heard said from an undisclosed location in a text message.
Usually, the last week of a legislative session is reserved for finalizing state budgets and a flurry of activity leading to adjournment.
These days, Democrats are instead trying to increase the pressure on Republicans by reciting the many bills and priorities that will perish if Republicans don’t return, such as funding to deal with wildfires and money to address the homeless crisis.
House Democrats voted last week to issue subpoenas to try and force absent Republicans’ attendance. The subpoenas would theoretically require lawmakers to appear before a House Rules Committee on March 5, but it’s unclear whether they will compel Republicans to return. Democrats have hired a process server company to help deliver the subpoenas. Legislative lawyers have said House Republicans are not likely exempt from subpoenas.
Gov. Kate Brown has said she might consider calling lawmakers back for a special legislative session if they don’t return by Sunday.
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