Only nine days remain in the legislative session and it may as well be the beginning or, perhaps, the end. The legislature has only enacted three measures for the session, holding hundreds of others hostage in the standoff over the cap-and-trade politics. Lawmakers have been on a collision course for several weeks now—scheduling, postponing, and rescheduling the cap-and-trade measure—and it was only a matter of time for the mounting pressure in the building to finally burst.
On Monday, the Ways & Means Committee held its work session on the controversial legislation and, as promised, Senate Republicans immediately fled the building. House Republicans followed suit the next day. Both caucuses left the building only making a single demand—abandon the measure or refer it to voters.
The days that followed the walkout have been long but, largely, anticlimactic. Unlike the 2019 session, Senate President Peter Courtney declined to ask the governor to deploy the Oregon State Police in a legendary chase of political cops and robbers. Instead, members of both parties spent the week sparring over press releases and social media to make their cases to the public. Democrats continue to frame the walkout as a “taxpayer-funded vacation” and a “dereliction of duty.” Meanwhile, Republicans have accused Democrats of “ineffectively managing the legislative calendar” and “rigging the process.”
On Thursday, the House Rules Committee took an extraordinary step by issuing subpoenas compelling absent members to return to the capitol. The issuing of subpoenas is uncommon in Oregon but not unprecedented. During a 2001 walkout over legislative redistricting, Republicans issued subpoenas ordering absent Democrats to return to the building. Nevertheless, the viability of the subpoenas is questionable, at best, because the state constitution protects members of the legislature from any civil process during the session.
The clock is ticking for the session and lawmakers have only until midnight on Sunday, March 8, to complete their business, and neither side appears ready to make any concessions. There is important legislation clinging to life as the parties navigate the walkout politics. If a truce cannot be reached on the standoff, the legislature will not rebalance the state budget and hundreds of policy bills would die, including crucial corrections to the new tax on business gross receipts.
In an interview this week with Oregon Public Broadcasting, Senate President Courtney acknowledged leadership had consciously chosen to force the cap-and-trade bill before advancing the important legislation. He later expressed a willingness to refer the measure to the voters but members of his party rejected the idea. There remains time for cooler heads to prevail but, at least for the moment, it appears the session may be effectively over.