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In early returns, Oregonians appear to be favoring Measure 113, which would limit Legislature walkouts

Democratic members of the Oregon Senate stand in the mostly empty Senate chambers at the Oregon Capitol in June 2019, after a walkout by Senate Republicans.
Bryan M. Vance
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Democratic members of the Oregon Senate stand in the mostly empty Senate chambers at the Oregon Capitol in June 2019, after a walkout by Senate Republicans.

Oregon voters appear to have impaired the ability of state lawmakers in the minority party to block contentious bills by fleeing the Capitol, a maneuver Republicans employed in 2019 and 2020.

Oregon voters appear to have impaired the ability of state lawmakers in the minority party to block contentious bills by fleeing the Capitol, a maneuver Republicans employed in 2019 and 2020.

Measure 113, pushed by public employee unions and supported by top Democrats, was headed for passage after early returns Tuesday.

The measure adds language to the Oregon Constitution preventing any lawmaker from running for reelection if they have 10 or more unexcused absences in a single legislative session. It also prevents such lawmakers from winning office in the other legislative chamber.

Measure 113 was conceived as a way to get around Oregon’s constitutional quorum requirement, which requires two-thirds of lawmakers in a chamber to be present in order to conduct business. That’s a higher bar than exists in many states, which often require a mere majority of lawmakers present to achieve a quorum.

The two-thirds quorum rule has allowed a “nuclear” option that both parties have used in the past to buck legislation they found particularly toxic. By refusing to attend floor sessions — and often leaving the state to avoid being corralled by Oregon State Police — lawmakers in the minority have successfully stymied bills.

In 2001, minority House Democrats walked away from Salem to block a Republican maneuver to pass new political maps without the signature of Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber. In 2020, minority Republicans left the state to stop Democrats from passing a bill to regulate greenhouse gas emissions

With M113′s passage, such maneuvers are far less likely.

The measure attracted no formal opposition, but it was criticized by some who saw it as an imperfect approach to addressing deep disagreements in Salem. Both the Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board and Willamette Week urged a “no” vote on the measure, calling it manipulative and subjective.

One central criticism was that Measure 113 places too much power in the hands of the Senate president and House speaker, the two legislative leaders — currently Democrats — who decide whether absences are marked excused or unexcused.

Critics also said the measure risks disenfranchising voters who support their elected representative walking out to block some legislation and would happily re-elect lawmakers who participated in legislative boycotts.

“Legislators’ first obligation is to their constituents,” an Oregonian/OregonLive editorial said. “Provided the legislator is not a danger to others at the Capitol or otherwise unfit to hold office, constituents should make the call on whether they continue in their job or not.”

The public-sector unions backing Measure 113 opted not to pursue a simpler means of preventing walkouts: Asking voters to change the state’s quorum requirements to a simple majority of lawmakers. The labor groups said that the approach in M113 polled better with voters, who were swayed by the argument that lawmakers should lose their jobs if they don’t come to work.

This is a developing story. Watch for updates.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Lillian Mongeau Hughes