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.