Oregon Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, talks to reporters about the upcoming session with Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Corvallis. (Ben Botkin/Oregon Capital Chronicle)
Republican senators who participated in the longest quorum-denying walkout in state history will learn their political fate on Thursday when the Oregon Supreme Court rules on their lawsuit over a voter-approved law intended to discourage walkouts.
For weeks, the senators and other political observers have waited for the court’s ruling on Measure 113, a voter-approved law that bars state legislators from serving a subsequent term after at least 10 unexcused absences. Ten Republican senators, including four who hope to run for reelection this year, ran afoul of the measure with their six-week protest of bills on guns, abortion and transgender health care.
Senators who sued argued that the measure was poorly written and that a plain-text reading means they’re ineligible for the term after their next term. The state Department of Justice urged the court to consider what voters intended. Measure 113 passed with nearly 70% of the vote in November 2022.
If the court rules in favor of the state, Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp of Bend and Sens. Brian Boquist of Dallas, Lynn Findley of Vale, Bill Hansell of Athena, Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls and Art Robinson of Cave Junction must end their legislative careers in January. Findley and Hansell already planned to retire.
Sens. Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, Cedric Hayden of Fall Creek, Kim Thatcher of Keizer and Suzanne Weber of Tillamook would be barred from running for reelection in 2026.
Knopp, who led the walkout, said Wednesday he thinks Republicans will win regardless of how the court rules: Either Republicans will get to run for reelection, or Democrats will need to provide incentives for lame-duck Republican senators to attend floor sessions. He made his comments during a session preview event hosted by the Oregon Legislative Correspondents Association.
“If the court sides with us, it’s a clear victory,” Knopp said. “If it doesn’t, I think we still win because our members literally have no reason to show up, and so in order for them to show up, they’re going to want to see that they’re going to be able to make a difference.”
Democrats, who hold 17 seats in the state Senate, need at least three Republicans to attend each day of the legislative session to meet the Legislature’s two-thirds quorum requirement. Otherwise, they can’t pass a single bill.
That gives Republicans in the Senate – and the House, where Republicans control 25 of 60 seats – leverage to scuttle Democratic proposals by refusing to participate in the month-long legislative session that begins Monday. The session will focus on spurring housing production, something Republicans and Democrats largely agree on as a priority, but also on responding to the state’s addiction crisis and tweaking a voter-approved drug decriminalization law.
Democrats have proposed reinstating criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of drugs, allowing prosecutors to charge people with misdemeanors that carry up to 30 days in jail. But Republicans want to go further, mandating penalties of up to a year in jail for people who don’t participate in mandatory addiction treatment.
Knopp said early indications are that the 2024 session will be bipartisan in nature, but that Republicans won’t refrain from walking out again if they feel like they’re not being respected or involved in the process.
“I’m not predicting a walkout at this point, but we’re not taking it off the table,” he said.
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