(The Center Square) – Oregon voters may have the chance to end the same type of walkouts occurring in the Texas Legislature after years of attempts by state lawmakers locally.
Walkout protests are regarded as a scorched-earth tactic used to deny quorum or the number of lawmakers needed to conduct business. That includes reading, debating and approving bills. In Texas, two-thirds of its 150 state lawmakers must be present to conduct business or 100 in all. The Oregon Legislature requires two-thirds of its 90 state lawmakers or 60 total to do business.
Since 2019, Oregon Republicans have staged three walkout protests over a series of Democratic legislation. The first bill concerned a corporate activity tax. The second in 2020 was over a cap and trade bill, which Gov. Kate Brown later passed through executive order in 2020.
This year, Oregon Senate Republicans staged a one-day walkout to block a gun control bill forcing owners to lock their weapons away with a cable or trigger lock at their own expense. That bill was signed into law by Brown last month.
Oregon Democrats have equated GOP walkouts to everything from backstabbing to terrorism, signaling they've grown weary with the issue.
"The scores of bills I've seen revised to address Republican concerns make that hard to take seriously," state Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Medford, said in March. "It seems more like a bullying tactic than reality, and I feel myself losing interest in compromise."
Democrats used the strategy in 2001 to stop Republicans from sending a redistricting plan to then Gov. John Kitzhaber as a veto-proof resolution instead of a bill. Brown, the Senate Democratic Majority Leader at the time, was among them. She called it "very appropriate under the circumstances," according to an Associated Press story.
Republicans have defended their walkouts on the grounds Democrats denied them equal airtime in committee hearings and in debating legislation. They were seated in equal numbers on the House Redistricting Committee this past session following a quarrel over bill readings in the House.
For Oregonians, Texan House Democrats' walkout may seem like deja vu, but the stakes are entirely different. Among the bills that Texan Democrats are attempting to kill include one placing more ID restrictions for mail-in-voting, something Oregon has cherished for decades. Several others ban drive-thru voting and partisan poll watching protections, which Texan Democrats have called attacks on democracy.
Some 2,000 miles away in Oregon, Texan Democrats have unlikely supporters: Oregon Republicans.
"Regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the policy that Texas Democrats are protesting, the quorum requirement is a tool that minorities have for holding runaway government accountable," Oregon Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod, R-Lyons, told Willamette Week. "In other words, our support of quroum rules extend to Democrats and Republicans."
In the years since, the state's Democratic majority has tried to throw the book at absent lawmakers using fines that now exist in the House. Attempts to quell walkouts with stricter penalties failed to materialize this year. A Democratic coalition, No More Costly Walkouts, has picked up the baton to settle the issue at the ballot box.
The group, which counts several state employee unions and Planned Parenthood of Oregon among its chief members, drafted two ballot measures in May to bring the hammer down on legislative no-shows.
One measure would amend the Oregon Constitution to ban state lawmakers from running for reelection if they have more than 10 unexcused absences during a session. It requires 149,360 signatures by July 2022, or 8% of the votes cast for governor in 2018, to appear on the November 2022 ballot.
The second measure would levy a fine of $500 each day a state lawmaker has an unexcused absence, forgo their salary and lose their per diem allowance. They would also be banned from using campaign funds or fundraising to make up for their losses. The measure needs 112,020 signatures by July 2022 to appear on the ballot next fall.
Oregon lawmakers are paid $31,200 per year and $151 in per diem expenses, less than many smaller states like Delaware pay. State lawmakers tried to give themselves a pay raise this session to no success.
According to Ballotpedia, between 1995 and 2020, 46.43% of measures that appeared on statewide ballots in even-numbered years were approved.