A walkout by most Republicans and two independent members of the Oregon Senate starting May 3 delayed action by the majority Democrats on bills related to restricting access to guns, and increasing access to abortion, and gender-transition services.
Because Oregon’s legislative rules require a two- thirds quorum to conduct business, the session ground to a halt.
The walkout enters its second week on May 8 with no end in sight.
GOP leaders are saying that the “work stoppage” is not tied to any one particular bill but rather what they say is an unconstitutional process of passing bills that fail to meet legal requirements for using language that the public can understand.
Oregon statute requires bill summaries to be written at an 8th-grade reading level, which correlates with a Flesch-Kincaid readability score of 60. The bills in question score as low as 30, corresponding to the reading level of college graduates.
“Laws are to be plainly written and easy to understand,” explained Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp.
“When the majority of bill summaries demand a post-graduate degree to understand what the bills do, we disenfranchise Oregonians across the state and violate the law in the process.”
Democrats claim the argument has no merit, although it is codified in statute. They allege Republicans are using the tactic to try to kill controversial bills that reached the chamber last week.
“The people of Oregon are not fooled,” said Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber in a press conference. “It is no coincidence that the Republicans are employing these tactics just at the time that we were about to address House Bill 2002.”
What’s in the Healthcare Bill?
HB 2002 would dramatically expand access and public funding for abortion and gender-transition procedures in Oregon. It would also allow both to take place without parental consent or notification.
Two Republicans who walked out last week are adamant about their objections.
“The bill is a massive overhaul of Oregon healthcare to focus on a relatively small group of people and would completely upend our healthcare approach to minors,” Sen. Dennis Linthicum told The Epoch Times.
“A minor of any age could get an abortion or a minor age 15 or older could begin gender transition without parent permission or notification.”
Democratic House Speaker Dan Rayfield said HB 2002 was “the result of a year-long collaboration between dozens of legislators and stakeholders” following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last year, according to a statement released last week.
But Linthicum called that a strawman argument.
“This legislation has nothing to do with that decision,” he said “Oregon already protects abortion rights up to the moment of birth.”
The bill would require all health plans in Oregon to cover abortion procedures and gender-affirming care.
Services will be offered through the state government’s “Healthier Oregon” program, which provides health coverage to low-income individuals who “live in Oregon“ regardless of immigration status, or residency.
“There would be no requirement for patients to establish residency to qualify for services,” Linthicum explained. “The bill would, by design, attract out-of-state people seeking free care in Oregon.
“The costs to taxpayers and insurance ratepayers could be enormous.”
The bill also repeals criminal provisions relating to concealing a birth.
“You could legally conceal the birth of a newborn child,” Republican Sen. Kim Thatcher, who was also absent last week, told The Epoch Times.
Thatcher shares Linthicum’s concern about costs.
“Taxpayers are already funding abortions in Oregon,” she said. “The bill would force insurance ratepayers to fund gender reassignment surgeries, and related services.”
Included in the requirements are coverage for electrolysis, tracheal shaves, adding or removing of an Adam’s apple—procedures which are frequently labeled “cosmetic,” Thatcher explained.
Democrats dismiss these concerns.
“I don’t know what they want besides killing legislative priorities,” said Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber.
“Democrats are willing to continue conversations but are not willing to kill legislative priorities.”
Lieber remains “fully confident” the Senate is going to move forward with the presented ultra-liberal Democratic policy agenda.
But Republicans are entrenched.
“The bill is poorly written and incredibly harmful to families and society as a whole. To get back to regular order, it needs to be taken off the table,” Linthicum said.
High Stakes for GOP
Both parties have used walkouts to stymie legislation in the past. Most recently, the Republicans used the tactic to stop then-Gov. Kate Brown’s climate change agenda, which proposed significantly increasing government regulation across many sectors in an effort to lower carbon emissions in public.
But the stakes have been raised.
Last year, Oregon voters approved a statewide ballot measure that levies stiff penalties for a minority party walkout.
Any lawmaker who receives 10 or more unexcused absences faces a $25,000 fine and a prohibition against running for re-election.
Republicans are adamant about staying away from the Capitol but it remains to be seen how long they can hold out.
Six GOP lawmakers were listed as excused last week. Five were marked unexcused.
Republicans could use excused absences to run the clock, swapping out lawmakers who are nearing their 10 unexcused absence mark for lawmakers with fewer.
Should one or more rack up 10 unexcused absences, the party would have legal standing to challenge the constitutionality of the new voter-approved law, Leader Knopp claims.
In a May 3 press conference, he said that senators are taking their protest day-by-day.
But with the current session running until June 30, it could be a long, hard struggle.
From The Epoch Times