SALEM – Republican lawmakers returned to the Oregon Senate on Saturday, ending an acrimonious nine-day walkout over a carbon emissions bill that would have been the second such legislation in the nation.
The boycott had escalated when the Democratic governor ordered the state police to find and return the rogue Republicans to the Senate so the chamber could convene, and a counter-threat by one GOP senator to violently resist any such attempt. Senate Republicans fled the state to avoid being forcibly returned by the Oregon State Police, whose jurisdiction ends at the state line.
Democrats have an 18-12 majority in the Senate but need at least 20 members – and therefore at least two Republicans – present to vote on legislation.
Nine minority Republicans returned to the Senate on Saturday after Senate President Peter Courtney said the majority Democrats lacked the necessary 16 votes to pass the legislation, a statewide cap on carbon that allows companies to trade pollution credits. Shortly after convening, senators quickly voted 17-10 to send the climate proposal back to committee, essentially killing it for the session.
Sen. Sara Gelser, a Democrat from Corvallis, said the demise of the cap-and-trade bill has deeply upset many constituents.
“That’s a bill that’s been many, many years in the making,” Gelser told reporters Saturday. “I think there’s a lot of heartbreak, but today is one day and we’ll come back and address it. We have to. Our planet demands it.”
The House had previously passed the bill, one of the centerpieces of Oregon’s 2019 legislative session, which is scheduled to end late Sunday.
Republicans, who make up the minority in both chambers, uniformly opposed the proposal, claiming it would increase the cost of fuel and wreak financial havoc on the trucking and logging industries.
One of the Republicans absent Saturday was Sen. Brian Boquist, who had told state police to come heavily armed and to send bachelor officers if they were going to forcibly return him to the Senate during the walkout. On Friday, Senate Republican leader Herman Baertschiger, Jr. refused to condemn Boquist’s words, only saying that the comments were “unhelpful.”
Boquist faces a formal complaint that will be taken up at a special committee hearing in July.
The Republican walkout inspired protests at the Capitol and led to the building being closed one day due to a possible militia threat.
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