In Short

Fines not deterring absent Republican senators as walkout persists

By: - June 5, 2023 4:06 pm

Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, presides over the Senate on May 31, 2023, as the GOP-led walkout entered its 19th day. Fines did not encourage senators to end the walkout on Monday, June 5, 2023. (Ben Botkin/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

So far, $325 daily fines are not swaying Republican senators to return to floor sessions and end their walkout. 

Last Thursday, Senate Democrats agreed to the fines, starting Monday, to compel senators to return. But that plan appears to have failed: On Monday, the Republican-led boycott continued, preventing the chamber from doing business. 

Nineteen senators showed up, one member short of the 20 needed to conduct business. For the first time since the walkout started, Democratic Sen. Chris Gorsek of Gresham was on the floor, returning from an extended medical leave for a surgery in March.

The walkout, which started May 3, has prevented Senate votes on a variety of issues including housing, mental services and public education. Those bills will all die if the Senate cannot hold floor sessions before the session ends by June 25.

After ending the floor session, Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, had little to say other than that there are “great bills and budgets” coming out of the Joint Ways and Means Committee and they’re willing to work with Republicans. 

If the session ends without senators voting on bills, Gov. Tina Kotek likely will call a special session to pass budget bills. At this point, it’s uncertain when that might happen.

Meanwhile, the state House is running out of bills to act on as the Senate stalemate continues. Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis, was the only representative on the House floor on Monday to announce the chamber would return Wednesday. The House has 20 bills, including several budget measures funding individual agencies, on its calendars for the remainder of the week. 

Initially, Republican senators who walked out said bill summaries were not complying with a state law that requires they have an eighth-grade reading level. Since then, they also have identified bills they consider too partisan to pass. Among those bills: House Bill 2002, which expands abortion rights and access to transgender health care; and House Bill 2005, which raises the minimum age to purchase most firearms from 18 to 21 years of age.

Nine Republican senators on Monday had unexcused absences, one short of the 10 who usually participate in the walkout. 

The absent Republican senators who will now get fined for at least one absence – and more if they continue – are: Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp of Bend; and Sens. Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, Lynn Findley of Vale, Bill Hansell of Athena, Cedric Hayden of Fall Creek, Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls, Art Robinson of Cave Junction, Kim Thatcher of Keizer and Suzanne Weber of Tillamook.

Independent Sen. Brian Boquist of Dallas, a regular participant in the walkout, requested and received an excused absence to fix a water line that broke on his property. Wagner, who has sole authority to grant or deny requests for absences, has said he will not grant excused absences unless the situations are “extraordinary circumstances.” 

Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, has received an excused absence for medical reasons since the walkout started.

Two Republicans, Sens. David Brock Smith of Port Orford and Dick Anderson of Lincoln City, were present on Monday, as they have been on most days this session. 

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Ben Botkin
Ben Botkin

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. Ben Botkin has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report. Botkin has won multiple journalism awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.

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