SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Democratic lawmakers stood on the steps of the state’s Capitol on Tuesday and implored Republicans, who have been boycotting the Senate for over a month, to come back and vote on bills, saying life is literally up are at stake.
Several state houses across the country, including Montana And Tennessee were ideological battlegrounds this year. Republicans in the Oregon House of Representatives went on strikes in 2019, 2020 and 2021 to deny Quora, but this one is the most serious yet, threatening hundreds of bills and state budget approvals for the next two years.
Neither side moves on an invoice to protect abortion and transgender care, with Democrats saying it’s non-negotiable and minority Republicans insisting it be scrapped or changed. It depends on which side flashes first. If there is no compromise well before the session is constitutionally required to end by June 25, the hundreds of bills that did not pass either the House or Senate will fail.
Senator Jeff Golden, a Democrat representing southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley, said the bills include improving wildfire response and protection like those who have laid waste Parts of the state in 2020.
“Like the other bills you’ve heard about, these are on the brink. If we abandon these bills now, we risk serious damage – including life and death -” Golden told reporters and supporters under the hot sun, a harbinger of the coming dry season in the drought-stricken state.
Rep. Travis Nelson, a Democrat and a registered nurse by training, said among the measures frozen by the longest Republican strike in state history is a bipartisan opioid harm reduction package that would include making overdose drugs like naloxone available in restaurants, Grocery stores and police departments and schools.
“This will save lives and give people a chance to recover and we need to pass this legislation,” said Nelson, who wore blue nurse’s coats at the press conference and rally.
Rep. David Gomberg, a Democrat representing the Coast, said a bill he’s worked on with Democrats and Republicans would allocate $70 million to support small farmers, fishermen and small businesses and create more housing. If another bipartisan measure aimed at luring the semiconductor industry fails, Oregon faces losing billions of dollars in federal funds to other states, Gomberg said. A related bill was passed with broad support before the strike.
Earthquake-prone dams would be replaced by another bill at stake. Without them, Oregon could lose $60 million in federal funding, Gomberg said.
Jan Kaplan, president of the coastal city of Newport, said dams that create reservoirs for Newport’s drinking water are the most earthquake-prone in the state.
“Even a minor earthquake could cause levees to fail and water to rush through a downhill neighborhood. “People would die,” Kaplan said. “The flood would cut through Highway 101, our main artery on the coast.”
The boycott prevented the Senate from achieving the two-thirds quorum needed to vote on bills, and all but two of the 12 Republicans and the lone Independent stayed away.
Senate Minority Leader Senator Tim Knopp was unperturbed by the Democrats’ dire warnings.
“Well, there are always lives at stake when it comes to the politics being discussed here in the state Capitol,” Knopp told reporters. “Unfortunately, their anger is misplaced, and Senate Democrats could have put an end to that weeks ago.”
“It seems to me that the people who actually have to give way are the people in charge of the legislature, who are supposed to be the leaders of the legislature,” Knopp said.
The strike comes despite a voting measure approved by Oregon voters last November that bars lawmakers with ten or more unexcused absences from re-election in the next term. The measure, which is now part of the state constitution, is expected to be challenged in court by Republican senators if the secretary of state’s office blocks them from registering as candidates.
On June 1, Senate Democrats voted to fine senators $325 each time their absence denies the chamber the two-thirds quorum needed to do business.
Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek may call a special session of the House and Senate this summer to approve state budgets for the next two years if not all are approved by June 25. But most of the bills that fail because of the strike would not resurrect until 2025, as next year’s “short session” lasts barely a month.
Senator Michael Dembrow, a Portland Democrat, got emotional as he described the frustrating strike.
“It’s very painful for me,” said Dembrow. “As many of you know, this is my last long term in Parliament.” I have been here for 15 years. I’m not running again I didn’t intend to end up like this.”
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