5 min read

Whirlwind Week Concludes Senate Walkout

The longest walkout in Oregon history, and the second longest of any state, concludes with compromise and a mad dash to the finish line on all the bills waiting in the legislative queue.

The Takeaway

After 44 long and arduous days without a quorum, the Senate finally reached a deal this week, bringing the chamber's Republican and Independent members back to the floor for the legislative session's final days. Besides an occasional committee hearing, the Capitol was oddly quiet as a group of legislators spent days trying to reach an agreement. Late Thursday morning, it became clear a deal had been brokered and, for the first time in more than six weeks, the Senate proceeded to work through its long list of measures awaiting the chamber's attention.

The Takeaway is a weekly session publication making sense of Oregon politics and policy. Every Friday while the legislature is in session, we publish a review of the week’s prominent topics and controversies. Subscribe to The Takeaway to receive these newsletters in your inbox!

Speculation about a potential deal drove most conversations this week, with lawmakers and lobbyists scurrying to find out the status and any details of bills that could be in the mix. Ultimately, the agreement seems to be narrow in scope—modify legislation at the core of the walkout politics and determine a way to start clearing through the logjam of hundreds of measures tied up on the Senate floor. Democrats agreed to eliminate provisions in HB 2002 preventing parental notification for minors under 15 years of age receiving an abortion unless the medical provider believes such disclosure could harm the child. HB 2005, a controversial gun control measure, was amended to only ban "ghost guns," firearms built from parts that can be self-manufactured or easily purchased online. SJR 33 and SB 27, sibling bills referring a constitutional amendment and ballot title enshrining abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgender rights into the state constitution, were removed from consideration.

Since the beginning of the walkout, Democrats persistently said they would not entertain the notion of a "kill list" to bring Republicans back to the building. Besides SJR 33 and SB 27, there are no indications measures died because of the negotiations to end the walkout. That is not to say that some bills will not die because of the walkout. With hundreds of measures to work through over the next few days and the need to hold public hearings and work sessions, the legislature may abandon some ideas simply as part of its race against the clock.

With the walkout in the rearview mirror, the legislature will have to throw itself into hyperdrive to complete the session's work. Article IV, Section 14 of the Oregon Constitution requires every bill to receive a public hearing before advancing out of a committee. There are roughly 90 Senate bills that still need to move off the chamber's floor and receive public hearings in the House and 125 House bills requiring public hearings in the Senate. Since policy committees are closed for the rest of the session, the work of hearing and working those bills now largely falls on the rules and revenue committees. Unlike most sessions, the next week will likely be a race to the finish line like we haven't seen before.

There also remain some controversies for the legislature to resolve that were not part of the negotiation. The legislative revenue committees have spent the last few weeks crafting a package of reforms to the state's tax incentives. Additionally, the legislature must decide the fate of a controversial climate and environmental policy omnibus that surfaced in the last few days. The proposal sets some of the most aggressive climate targets in the nation and establishes new requirements, such as energy-efficient building codes and various environmental programs. With constitutional adjournment only nine days away, the window for lawmakers to decide the fate of these bills is closing.

Oregon Democrats Propose Quorum Rule Change

On Wednesday, 44 Democratic legislators introduced a constitutional referendum asking voters to change the state's quorum requirement to eliminate the threat of a walkout. Last fall, voters enacted Measure 113, which intended to prohibit a legislator from seeking reelection if they incurred more than nine unexcused absences. During this year's walkout, lawyers representing Republican and Independent lawmakers asserted a drafting error allows the members to run for reelection. While the courts may ultimately resolve that issue, HJR 30 would require only a simple majority of lawmakers in each chamber to establish a quorum. The measure will unlikely receive a hearing, let alone a vote this session, but conversations about Oregon's high quorum threshold are unlikely to fade away after this session.

Oregon's Largest Private Sector Union Files Five Potential Ballot Measures

On Monday, United Food & Commercial Workers Local 555, the state's largest private sector union, initiated the process for five initiative petitions (IP), the first stage of launching a ballot measure campaign. Some of the issues included in the petitions mirror measures the union lost during the current legislative session.

  • Lawmaker Accountability (IP 31): Restructures the Oregon Government Ethics Commission by removing gubernatorial apportionments and legislative confirmation and bestows those responsibilities to the Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court.
  • Legislative Transparency Act (IP 32): Eliminates the open meetings law exemption allowing political caucuses to hold meetings closed to the public.
  • Hospital Transparency (IP 33): Imposes new limits on how hospital systems can invest financial assets and requires public reporting on income, costs, and investments.
  • Smart Campaign Finance Reform (IP 34): Establishes donation limits to candidate committees and other political causes and creates a new small-donor matching program with state money.
  • United for Cannabis Workers (IP 35): Requires cannabis businesses to sign labor peace agreements (i.e., agreeing to be a neutral third party in unionization drives) as a precondition to licensure.

Note: The titles of the initiatives come from the sponsors and are not our characterization.

Oregon Poised to Sunset Federal SALT Workaround

In 2021, Oregon lawmakers enacted a workaround to the federal state and local tax (SALT) deduction limitation, allowing individual taxpayers with an ownership interest in a pass-through entity to write off their state taxes. The workaround mechanism enables taxpayers to pay a special tax on their business income with a corresponding state tax credit offsetting traditional taxes and claiming a federal deduction as an ordinary business expense. Taxpayers utilized the program far more than lawmakers and administrators anticipated at its inception. Now, however, Oregon may become the first state to allow the program to quietly expire.


What We're Reading This Week

  • Before agreeing his caucus would return to the Senate floor, Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend) published a guest opinion in The Oregonian on the motivation to leave and preconditions for a deal.
  • Among the bills passed by the Senate after ending the walkout is a new prohibition on elected officials receiving cash donations if they amount to more than $100, one of several scandals at the center of state and federal investigations into the cannabis firm that employed former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan (D).
  • In his weekly column for Oregon Capital Insider, Dick Hughes writes that Capitol culture has changed considerably since the legislature established strict rules barring lobbyists from sponsoring certain types of social events. He argues those rules, while well-intended, have hurt relationships between lawmakers.
  • While many people and groups are pleased to see an end to the stalemate, some groups entrenched in abortion and gun control politics are not. On Tuesday, a group of 150 Oregon physicians urged the legislature not to water down the abortion and gender-affirming care proposal. And throughout the week, Kevin Starrett of the Oregon Firearms Federation blasted Republican leadership for "selling out" conservative causes.
  • Several blue states, including Oregon, have committed their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote if enough states join a compact. A columnist for the Washington Post writes the compact could result in a blunder much worse than the 2020 election.
  • Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Politics Now" podcast takes a deep dive into this week's deal-or-no-deal politics from the perspective of the state's Capitol reporters.
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