Oregon Senate Republicans describe hopes for bipartisanship, won’t stop delaying tactics
Oregon Senate Republicans described hopes of a bipartisan legislative session on Tuesday – but they also have no plans to stop forcing every bill to be read in its entirety on the Senate floor, a delaying tactic to hinder the work of the Democratic majority.
For the past two years, a droning computer has read thousands of pages of legislation in the House and Senate because Republicans in the minority in both chambers refused to waive a constitutional requirement that bills be read in their entirety before they’re passed.
It’s one of the only pieces of leverage Republicans have at their disposal this year after voters approved a constitutional amendment to bar lawmakers who walk out of the Capitol from being re-elected. Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said Republicans will continue requiring bills be read in full until they feel like their constituents’ concerns are being heard.
“It is the obligation of the minority to make sure that every voice is heard, and we will use the tools that are available to the minority to make that happen,” Knopp said. “Now, if we don’t need any of those tools, and the Democrats want to hear and include all voices in legislation, then we don’t have to use those tools.”
The one-page legislative agenda, titled “Equitable Oregon,” that Knopp and other Senate GOP leaders laid out in a press conference Tuesday contains some areas of clear bipartisan agreement. Senate Republicans, like legislative Democrats, are prioritizing the expansion of the semiconductor industry and supporting Gov. Tina Kotek’s goal of building 36,000 new homes annually.
And some measures introduced by Republicans, including Sen. Dick Anderson’s Senate Bill 534 to provide low-cost financing to build homes for middle-income Oregonians and Sen. Daniel Bonham’s Senate Bill 430 to increase sentences for assaults that leave victims permanently disabled, have Democrats as co-sponsors or supporters.
Knopp testified Tuesday morning in a House committee hearing for a bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville, that would create a state income tax deduction for people who rent out rooms in their homes. He said it was a way to demonstrate that good ideas don’t come just from one party.
“We started by doing that this morning, and we’ll continue to do that,” Knopp said. “And we challenge our colleagues to do the same, because if we’re going to be one state and not have an urban-rural divide, then we have to include everyone.”
Knopp said he also heard from several Democratic senators who wanted to co-sponsor a bill he spoke about on the Senate floor Tuesday to stop reimbursing state employees who work from out of state for their travel expenses when they need to return to Oregon. About 500 state employees permanently relocated to other states when policy changes during the pandemic made it possible to work remotely.
The Senate Republicans’ agenda steered clear of some hot-button issues, including abortion. Individual Republican lawmakers have introduced several longshot bills to ban the procedure at various weeks or prohibit state funding for abortions.
There are no restrictions on abortion in Oregon, and a 2017 state law required that insurance providers or the state cover the procedure at no cost to patients. Democrats are working on legislation to protect abortion providers from prosecution or civil lawsuits from states that have banned or restricted abortion. They are likely to pursue additional funding for an increase in demand from women in Idaho and other states that have banned abortions.
“I think we all recognize that Democrats aren’t going to be supporting or passing legislation to restrict abortion,” Knopp said. “They’ve been very clear on that.”
The Senate Republican agenda included language about “protect(ing) free and fair elections,” but Knopp said bills introduced by some House Republicans to end Oregon’s mail voting system and only allow voters to vote by mail if they’re unable to cast a ballot in person on Election Day aren’t part of that agenda.
Instead, he said, Senate Republicans will fight against a Democratic proposal to expand voting rights to people currently serving time for committing felony crimes. And they intend to push legislation expanding existing post-election audits, banning candidates’ family members from participating in ballot counting and prohibiting “ballot harvesting,” a practice in which volunteers or third-party groups collect completed ballots from voters and drop them off at drop boxes or election offices.