Kotek quits negotiations as Oregon Senate GOP walkout hits fourth week
Gov. Tina Kotek said Democrats and Republicans are at an impasse, with Republicans insisting Democrats kill or substantially change a top priority around abortion and gender-affirming care
The desks of Republican senators are vacant on May 31, 2023, as the GOP-led walkout prevents the Senate from conducting business for the 19th day. (Ben Botkin/Oregon Capital Chronicle)
Updated at 2:55 p.m. with comments from Senate President Rob Wagner and Minority Leader Tim Knopp
Gov. Tina Kotek is done negotiating with Senate Republicans as their quorum-denying walkout stalls the chamber for a fourth week, she told the Capital Chronicle on Wednesday.
Kotek has spent the past week meeting with legislative Republicans and Democrats, listening to concerns and trying to broker an agreement that would bring 10 striking lawmakers back to the Senate to pass bills and approve a state budget for the next two years. She last spoke to Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, on Tuesday.
“At this point, I am very disappointed,” Kotek said. “We are at an impasse. The upshot is after very constructive conversations, I thought, in moving toward a resolution we are back at square one with Senate Republicans saying ‘Appreciate the conversations, but unless you substantially amend or kill House Bill 2002, we’re done talking and we’ll be back at the end of session on the last day.’”
House Bill 2002 would guarantee access to abortion and gender-affirming care and protect doctors who provide such care from prosecution or civil lawsuits, as long as they follow Oregon law and medical standards of care. It’s a top priority for legislative Democrats and Kotek, and Republicans walked out in part to prevent the bill from receiving a vote.
Republicans began their walkout on May 3, initially saying they were protesting the Senate’s failure to follow a state law that requires bill summaries to be written at about an eighth-grade reading level.
Knopp later acknowledged that bills he deemed partisan were a factor, though he has refused to release a list of about 20 “hyper-partisan” bills he initially agreed to share with the Capital Chronicle. Democrats also haven’t seen that list, and Knopp denied a records request for it, citing an exemption for lawmakers during the legislative session.
Knopp told the Capital Chronicle on Wednesday that Republicans don’t have a problem with provisions of House Bill 2002 that relate to protecting doctors from prosecution or lawsuits for providing services to people from other states, or a provision intended to ensure Oregon college students have access to birth control. But they want to remove sections of the bill that would enable minors to access abortion without parental consent and expand coverage for gender-affirming care.
“If we do nothing on abortion this year, if 2002 doesn’t pass, nothing changes as it relates to abortion access in Oregon for Oregonians,” Knopp said. “The idea that somehow that there is an emergency over access is literally wrong, and they know it, but they want to continue to use talking points to convince people that somehow there’s a critical emergency here.”
He said Republicans still want legislative attorneys to rewrite summaries for every bill at an eighth-grade reading level, but that he didn’t discuss that much with Kotek.
A spokesman for Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, said Wagner learned about the governor’s withdrawal shortly before it became public and that Wagner didn’t have anything to add. In an earlier prepared statement, Wagner demanded that Republicans return to the Senate.
“It is well past time for Senate Republicans to return to work and earn their taxpayer-funded pay,” he said. “We have hundreds of bills that have gone through our rigorous committee process. These bills must have an up or down vote on the Senate floor.”
The walkout has imperiled dozens of bills, including measures to ease homebuilding, hold schools accountable for academic performance, let more Oregonians pump their own gas and give tax breaks to semiconductor companies vying for federal funding.
It also stalls passage of the next two-year budget, leaving state agencies in limbo. A resolution passed earlier this year will allow state agencies to continue spending at their current level until Sept. 15. But two new state agencies – the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Department of Early Learning and Care – don’t have existing budgets, and Kotek said they won’t have money if a budget doesn’t pass before the new two-year budget cycle begins July 1.
Legislative Democrats have begun rolling out their proposed budgets for some agencies, and House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, told reporters last week that the House will vote on budget bills as soon as it can. But without the Senate in session, any budget bills passed by the House will die when the Legislature adjourns on or before June 25.
Kotek said her focus is solely on the state budget now, unless senators ask her to participate in conversations. If the budget doesn’t pass before June 25, she said she’s prepared to call legislators into a special session to approve a budget.
“I believe the situation is now back in the hands of legislative leadership to see if they can make any headway,” Kotek said. “I won’t speculate on what happens next. I’m going to focus on the budgets.”
Senate Republicans have repeatedly said they intend to return to the Legislature on June 25 to pass a budget and bills they consider bipartisan, and they’ll waive procedural bills to speed through those votes. Democrats, including Kotek, have said they won’t allow Republicans to return on the last day and hold veto power over bills.
“Work cannot get done in the last day of session,” Kotek said. “One day is not sufficient.”
Knopp hedged on whether Republicans would return in a special session or continue to deny a quorum.
“From here on out, Democrats have to negotiate everything,” he said. “We’re happy to listen. If we’re doing bipartisan budgets and so on, we’re obviously certainly open.”
Kotek could call in Oregon State Police to find missing senators, but she said she doesn’t plan to do so.
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