The gears of the legislature finally began to turn at a brisker speed this week, with the chambers passing more than 70 measures on the floor, the most so far in a single week. The Oregon House, still in a political standoff over bill readings, made up for the lost time by meeting in extended daily and nightly floor sessions throughout the week. The chamber, which still has nearly 100 measures on its third reading list, scheduled a rare weekend floor session on Saturday to continue reading and voting on measures as it tries to catch up with the flurry of legislation advancing out of the policy committees.
Republicans in the Oregon Senate are taking a different approach to the session than their House counterparts. In the upper chamber, Republicans are not requiring every measure to be read in its entirety before a vote, resulting in the chamber exhausting its third reading list before retiring each day. Still, the chamber is not without its drama. Rumors began circulating late last week that several Republicans had decided to break off from the minority caucus over frustrations that the minority caucus is not doing enough to slow down the progression of the session.
The discontent within the ranks of the minority party spans deeper than the ranks within the Capitol. On Monday, a resident from Molalla, Ore., filed paperwork initiating a recall petition against Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod (R-Stayton). The filing argues the senator abdicated his duty to his constituents by not staging a walkout over a measure allowing state and local agencies to prohibit firearms in public buildings. Despite the controversial use of walkouts as a political tactic for the minority to pull the ripcord on the legislative process, the tactic has become a fixture of our state’s partisan politics in recent sessions. Regularly, Republicans are feeling pressure from constituents and interest groups to walk out again to prevent controversial measures, such as gun control, from advancing through the legislative process. The past walkouts and the looming threat of another walkout are fundamentally shaping the legislature’s work, and, for some, voting against adverse legislation is simply no longer enough.
In an early morning release, the Oregon Supreme Court published its ruling over the legislature’s petition to circumvent the constitutional timelines for redrawing voting districts. In a unanimous opinion siding with the legislature, the Court said the U.S. Census Bureau’s delays make it impossible for the legislature or the Secretary of State to complete their responsibilities before their constitutional deadlines. The modified deadlines require the legislature to enact a redistricting plan by September 27. If the legislature fails to adopt a plan, the Secretary of State will complete the process by October 18.
The policy committees are racing against the clock to advance bills before completing the chamber of origin deadline on Tuesday. Once the deadline passes, any measure remaining in its original policy committee will become effectively dead for the session. In some cases, committee chairs are moving bills, many not ready for prime time, to the budget, revenue, or rules committees hoping that compromises can be reached on some of the session’s more controversial topics.