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GOP senator files religious discrimination complaints on 6th day of Oregon Senate walkout

Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, participates in a committee meeting in December 2022.
Connor Radnovich
Oregon Capital Chronicle
Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, participates in a committee meeting in December 2022.

One Republican senator filed a pair of workplace complaints Monday over denied requests to be excused from the Senate as a GOP walkout entered its sixth day.

Sen. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, alleged in complaints to the Bureau of Labor and Industries and to the Legislative Equity Office that President Rob Wagner violated his religious freedom by denying his requests to be excused to attend a church service on Saturday.

His complaint came as Hayden, eight fellow Republicans and one Independent senator again stayed away from the Capitol on Monday, denying Democrats in the legislative majority the opportunity to pass bills.

The latest unproductive floor session featured a short pointed prayer from Salem pastor Marilyn Williams asking for help for all lawmakers to do the right thing, the thing that their constituents voted for them to do. Without a quorum, the Senate soon adjourned with plans to try again Tuesday.

Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, again left the room without speaking to reporters, just as he has declined to comment since the first day of the walkout nearly a week ago. Wagner’s spokesman, Connor Radnovich, said Wagner has learned about Minority Leader Knopp’s complaints through media reportsand not from Knopp himself.

Radnovich added that Republicans seemed to be operating the way they would with former Senate President Peter Courtney, a Salem Democrat who tried to compromise with Republicans. He said Measure 113, a 2022 voter-approved law barring any lawmaker with 10 or more unexcused absences from serving in the next Legislature, changed things.

Four senators – Hayden, Republicans Daniel Bonham of The Dalles and Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls and Independent Brian Boquist of Dallas – now have six unexcused absences and are on track to reach their 10th by Friday.

Sen. Dick Anderson, R-Lincoln City, has attended every day since the Republican walkout began. He was joined Monday by Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena.

Republicans initially insisted that their walkout was over bill summaries being too difficult to understand, with a state law requiring that they be written at around an eighth grade reading level. Knopp, R-Bend, told the Capital Chronicle on Sunday that Republicans are also protesting about 20 bills they consider too partisan.

“There’s about 20 bills that are hyper-partisan, and need to be set aside for the good of Oregonians,” he said. “If they choose to do that, I think we’ll be able to finish the session and be able to finish the budgets.”

Knopp said his office would provide a list of the 20 bills on Monday, but he hasn’t yet shared them and a spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request Monday morning. Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton, told reporters that she asked for the list after reading about it in the Capital Chronicle, but she hasn’t seen it.

“The last time I checked, email’s super easy,” she said. “They don’t even have to be in the building to email me the list if they want to.”

However, Lieber said, Democrats aren’t going to compromise on their legislative priorities, including gun control and ensuring access to abortion.

“It feels like this has been a setup since the beginning,” Lieber said. “I would be happy to talk with any of the Republicans who want to talk about how to get over the impasse, but not only me, but my caucus is adamant about not watering down Democratic priorities. Short of that, we’re happy to have discussions.”

Complaints filed

In his complaints to the Bureau of Labor and Industries and the Senate, Hayden alleged that Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, violated laws that require religious accommodations for employees.

Hayden, a Seventh Day Adventist, belongs to a church that worships on Saturdays, where he also occasionally preaches. Wagner had denied his request to be absent for church last Saturday, as well as requests to be off the next seven Saturdays of the legislative session.

“Other Senate absences have been excused, absences unrelated to religious reasons,” Hayden wrote in his complaint to the bureau.

Hayden also complained he was denied Sunday off to take care of his disabled daughter, a request that was “flatly denied.”

“Meanwhile, other legislators have been treated like employees and ‘excused’ from floor sessions by Wagner for apparent medical reasons,” Hayden wrote in the complaint.

Hayden noted he’s not entitled to medical leave like an employee, but “requested a reasonable religious accommodation from a place of public accommodation that provides a public service, and he was denied, without an interactive process or discussion regarding the denial.”

The complaint says his wife is the sole caregiver for their daughter throughout the week around the clock and Hayden is needed to help give her a break, making Saturday excuses all the more important.

Wagner’s denial also impacts Hayden’s potential future as a legislator if he racks up 10 absences and is disqualified from re-election.

“The overall effect is to render Wagner’s religious discrimination against complainant all the more impactful, jeopardizing his service to the state,” the complaint said.

The Senate complaint lays out the same circumstances and seeks an order preventing Wagner from future denials. That complaint will be reviewed by the attorneys from Stoel Rives who have been handling workplace complaints as the legislative equity office sits vacant.

Wagner hadn’t yet read the complaints and had no comment Monday morning, his spokesman said.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. Julia is an award-winning journalist who reported on the tangled efforts to audit the 2020 presidential election results in Arizona.
Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. Ben Botkin has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.