The Oregon state capital in downtown Salem (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)
The Oregon state capital in downtown Salem (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Repub­li­cans in Ore­gon are once again hold­ing up the busi­ness of the Ore­gon State Leg­is­la­ture by refus­ing to show up for work, which is pre­vent­ing the Sen­ate from tak­ing up crit­i­cal gun safe­ty and repro­duc­tive jus­tice bills:

Most Ore­gon Repub­li­can sen­a­tors on Wednes­day skipped the Senate’s floor ses­sion, bring­ing the upper chamber’s work to a halt with­out the required two-thirds quo­rum as they face votes on the most divi­sive issues of the ses­sion: repro­duc­tive health and gun control.

The walk­out – which Repub­li­can lead­ers called a work stop­page – comes amid frus­tra­tions between minor­i­ty GOP sen­a­tors and Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­ers over con­tentious issues like firearms reg­u­la­tions, trans­gen­der rights and abor­tion. GOP lead­ers say the move is not tied to any one bill and aims to com­bat an uncon­sti­tu­tion­al process of pass­ing bills that fail to meet legal require­ments for read­able lan­guage that the pub­lic can understand.

What’s real­ly going on here is that Repub­li­cans want to find a way to block bills they don’t like from pass­ing. The non­sense about bills not being read­able is just a pre­text to jus­ti­fy their lat­est walk­out. Weird­ly, due to Ore­gon’s ridicu­lous quo­rum require­ment, Repub­li­cans have the pow­er to block bills if they don’t show up to work, where­as if they are there, they can’t stop the bills from passing.

Walk­out fil­i­busters are not a thing north of the Colum­bia Riv­er, because the quo­rum require­ment is a major­i­ty of leg­is­la­tors — which means Repub­li­cans can’t hold up the busi­ness of the Wash­ing­ton State Capi­tol by flee­ing the Capitol.

But in Ore­gon, the Con­sti­tu­tion says that a quo­rum is much more than a sim­ple major­i­ty. Inex­plic­a­bly, the per­cent­age required to meet quo­rum is two-thirds, which means the few can con­trol the pro­ceed­ings rather than the many:

Arti­cle IV, Sec­tion 12. Quo­rum; fail­ure to effect orga­ni­za­tion. Two thirds of each house shall con­sti­tute a quo­rum to do busi­ness, but a small­er num­ber may meet; adjourn from day to day, and com­pel the atten­dance of absent mem­bers. A quo­rum being in atten­dance, if either house fail to effect an orga­ni­za­tion with­in the first five days there­after, the mem­bers of the house so fail­ing shall be enti­tled to no com­pen­sa­tion from the end of the said five days until an orga­ni­za­tion shall have been effected.

An amend­ment passed by vot­ers last year and sup­port­ed by NPI says leg­is­la­tors with more than ten unex­cused absences become inel­i­gi­ble for reelec­tion, but that still gives Repub­li­cans an oppor­tu­ni­ty to stage walk­out fil­i­busters — albeit of a short­er dura­tion than in the past — with­out incur­ring consequences.

Here’s the text of the amend­ment that passed last year:

Arti­cle IV, Sec­tion 15. Pun­ish­ment and expul­sion of mem­bers. Either house may pun­ish its mem­bers for dis­or­der­ly behav­ior, and may with the con­cur­rence of two thirds, expel a mem­ber; but not a sec­ond time for the same cause. Fail­ure to attend, with­out per­mis­sion or excuse, ten or more leg­isla­tive floor ses­sions called to trans­act busi­ness dur­ing a reg­u­lar or spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sion shall be deemed dis­or­der­ly behav­ior and shall dis­qual­i­fy the mem­ber from hold­ing office as a Sen­a­tor or Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the term fol­low­ing the elec­tion after the member’s cur­rent term is com­plet­ed.

Repub­li­cans have talked about hav­ing at least one mem­ber delib­er­ate­ly vio­late this pro­vi­sion in order to bring a chal­lenge against it — pre­sum­ably under the Unit­ed States Con­sti­tu­tion, since a pro­vi­sion law­ful­ly added to Ore­gon’s con­sti­tu­tion can’t be chal­lenged as uncon­sti­tu­tion­al at the state level.

Repub­li­cans timed their fil­i­buster walk­out to cause as much dis­rup­tion as pos­si­ble and hin­der the busi­ness of Ore­gon’s Legislature.

To put an end to these stalling tac­tics, an amend­ment to alter the quo­rum to a sim­ple major­i­ty will ulti­mate­ly be nec­es­sary. NPI will work with allies in Ore­gon to secure pas­sage of such an amend­ment in the com­ing years.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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