(The Center Square) – Oregon Senate Republicans want the state reopened and appear willing to disrupt the legislative process to do it.
On Wednesday, the Senate GOP Caucus signaled its intent to take on the same parliamentary procedures as House Republicans earlier in the session by demanding bills be read aloud in full before a vote.
"As this session has shown, the Constitutional requirement that legislation be read in its entirety is an important tool to encourage bipartisan collaboration," the Senate Republican Caucus announced in a statement.
In response, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, resorted to reading bills aloud Wednesday by computer in lieu of a motion by the chamber's minority to waive such rules. The effort is part of larger concerns among Democratic lawmakers regarding public safety since four COVID cases twice shut down the House this session.
House Republicans brought those tactics to an end earlier this month as part of a deal with House Democrats granting them more seats on the House redistricting committee. The Senate Democratic Caucus has given no indication they are ready to strike such a bargain just yet.
Under the state constitution, lawmakers require a two-thirds majority to waive full bill readings. Democrats control the Senate by a majority of 18-12 and would need two GOP votes. Senate Republicans say they do not plan on backing down.
"Legislative Democrats have locked people out of their Capitol building, and are actively participating in the Governors' efforts to lock working Oregonians out of their jobs," Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod said in a statement. "With vaccinations ramping up, we should focus on lifting Oregonians up, not putting them out of work."
The move follows Oregon's fifth straight week of double-digit increases in cases. The Oregon Health Authority reported 5,729 new COVID cases between April 19 and April 25, up 21% from the past week and the fifth week of 20% bumps in case rates.
On Tuesday, OHA reported 328 patients were hospitalized with the virus and occupied about 11% of ICU beds statewide, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That total is the highest since the winter holidays ended.
The situation has pushed Gov. Kate Brown this week to move 15 of Oregon's most populous counties back to "Extreme Risk." The risk tier bans indoor dining, which most of the state had resumed at 25% capacity for the past several months.
"We are in the middle of the fourth surge of COVID-19 in Oregon, driven by more contagious variants of the disease," Brown said in a statement. "We must stop hospitalizations from spiking, so we can save lives, help our nurses and doctors weather this surge, and ensure no Oregonian is denied vital health care."
The governor has entertained the idea of fully reopening the economy by the end of June but says the state's vaccine rollout is losing the race against case rates. On Thursday, Brown extended Oregon's COVID health restrictions by another 60 days through June 28.
The CDC's COVID tracker has the number of Oregonians fully vaccinated against COVID at 30% and first-dose patients at 43%. The OHA reported this month that less than .01% of all fully vaccinated people were sickened by COVID.
The governor's latest ban on indoor dining drew fire from the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association (ORLA) which argues shutdowns will outsource COVID transmissions to other sites.
"The constant yo-yoing of closures and restrictions in Oregon are driving people to have multi-family gatherings at home indoors," said ORLA CEO Jason Brandt. "The level of ongoing suffering being experienced by the hospitality industry is hard to quantify with the constant myopic focus on restricting restaurants and gyms as a way to effectively manage our ongoing COVID crisis."
Opposition to Brown's COVID shutdowns over the past 13 months has inspired several GOP-backed bills sitting in the state legislature. They include terminating the state's COVID emergency and banning the governor from closing bars and restaurants, though it allows her to dictate safety measures. None have received a spot on the House or Senate's floor calendars.