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Oregon unions, progressive groups file initiatives to discourage Capitol walkouts

Protesters flood the steps of the Oregon state Capitol on June 25, 2019, to push back against a Republican walkout over a climate change bill that had entered its sixth day in Salem, Ore.  (Associated Press)
Protesters flood the steps of the Oregon state Capitol on June 25, 2019, to push back against a Republican walkout over a climate change bill that had entered its sixth day in Salem, Ore. (Associated Press)
By Hillary Borrud Oregonian

Oregon public employee unions and progressive groups on Thursday announced they are preparing to launch a signature gathering effort to qualify two anti-walkout initiatives for the 2022 ballot.

The groups, which include Planned Parenthood and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, also introduced an additional eight initiative proposals, all aimed at discouraging lawmakers from boycotting the state Capitol to kill legislation they oppose. In 2019 and 2020, Republicans used walkouts to kill climate change, gun safety and vaccine bills.

None of the proposed initiatives would broadly address a central reason Republican lawmakers have walked out of legislative sessions three years in a row: Oregon’s unusually high quorum requirement, embedded in the state constitution. It mandates that two-thirds of lawmakers in the House or Senate must be present before the body can introduce or vote on bills. Democrats hold majorities in both chambers, but not enough to keep working through Republican walkouts.

Patty Wentz, who works for the groups behind the No More Costly Walkouts campaign, said they “are very serious” about the initiatives and “there will be measures about gridlock on the ballot in November 2022.”

Wentz did not answer a reporter’s question about why the groups are not seeking to change Oregon’s two-thirds quorum.

Only Indiana, Texas and Tennessee have that high of a quorum requirement to conduct general business according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and the political encyclopedia website Ballotpedia.

Instead, the unions and progressive groups included a provision in a couple of their latest proposals to lower the quorum requirement if a walkout lasts longer than five days, according to a campaign summary. The proposals include a variety of deterrents against Capitol boycotts, including daily fines and taking away a lawmaker’s salary, per diem and expense reimbursements during a walkout. Some of the newly filed measures would also take aim at a delay tactic which House and Senate Republicans have used a lot this session: insisting bills be read aloud before final votes. Some of the proposals would do away with the constitutional bill reading requirement, which lawmakers can waive, so long as a bill is publicly available for 24 hours before a final vote.

The two proposed initiatives that are furthest along – Initiative Petition 14 and Initiative Petition 15 – would punish lawmakers who walk out with fines and amend the state Constitution to prohibit a representative or senator who boycotts 10 or more floor sessions from running for re-election in the next election cycle. Polling earlier this year paid for by the initiatives campaign found a majority of voters would support the ideas.

The campaign will test voter support for the latest eight initiative proposals and only pursue signature gathering for the most promising of them.

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