Republican/Democrat Tension in the Legislature
Late Wednesday evening, during a scheduled 5 p.m. floor session in the Senate, the democratic senators noticed something unusual: there were no republicans, the Oregonian reports. All 12 desks were empty, and only 17 of the 18 Democrats were present, not meeting the bipartisan 20-member quorum required for this event. Due to this, all the present officials were forced to leave after lingering in the chambers. Even a few House Republican showed up to the spectacle.
This is not a singular occurrence. Offput by the amount of subjects the Democrats have queued for this year’s 35 day session, ranging from minimum wage to renewable power, the Republicans have done all they can to slow the process. Some of them have even begun skipping committee hearings. These efforts may cause of backlog of bills as it continues towards the legislative deadline, including those of renewable power standards, and measures on affordable housing, renter relief, and gun control.
The same blockade sentiment is reflected in the House, but to a softer note after the passing of a major minimum wage bill to Kate Brown’s desk last week. Senate Republicans, however, are more strict.
Another tactic the Republicans have been utilizing is the constitutional rule of reading each bill aloud before vote. Normally, both parties unanimously vote to suspend the rule. Due to the length of some of them, this can add up to numerous extra hours added onto each session. Normally, both parties unanimously vote to suspend the rule. This has led President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, to consider adding night and weekend sessions, such as the one on Wednesday, in order to cope. He is also thinking further before moving bills that may cause more turmoil.
By 5:20 p.m. on Wednesday, Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, and Senate Minority Leader had issued a statement that acknowledged what had occurred, and did confess that slowing down the session was exactly the point of it. He claims that if senators want to pass bills, they must do it during regular business hours. The Republicans would be back in the morning, however. Floor sessions tend to start around 10:30 a.m.
Ferrioli’s main target appears to be House Bill 4036, which is one of the most ambitious pieces of environmental legislation in decades. Earlier this week, Ferrioli told the Portland Business Journal that the Republicans would do whatever they could to stop it.
This bill would allow it so that the ratepayers at Oregon’s two largest utilities, Portland General Electric [PGE] and Pacific Power, by 2030 would no longer be required to pay for power from out-of-state coal plants. Half of their customer’s power demand must also be fulfilled by renewable power by 2040.
In an attempt to dissuade the blockade, legislative leaders have discussed merging HB 4036 into another that has already passed the Senate, and has gone onwards to the House. This amended bill would return to the Senate for further approval, but final votes on the amendments of the opposite chamber are generally moved to the front of the line.
Lobbyists have taken to following Ferrioli to his office after a committee hearing Wednesday with fear that their bills will die, due to Republican threats of them holding strong against any land-use bills sought by developers as a part of the deal on lifting Oregon’s ban over affordable housing mandates.
It is still not exactly clear what may occur on Thursday.
A view of the capitol building from the Salem Center Mall. Photo credit to Edmund Garman on Flickr.