HB 2002 still at the top of Oregon Senate agenda, chamber president says

SALEM, Ore. (KGW) — During a long legislative session like this one, Oregon lawmakers usually pass hundreds of bills that collectively impact millions of people in ways both large and small. But much of that work remained in jeopardy as of Tuesday.

On Monday, The Story’s Pat Dooris spoke with Senate President Rob Wagner, the top Democrat in the chamber — the top lawmaker, period — about the ongoing Republican walkout that has halted votes for weeks now.

RELATED: What will it take to end the Oregon GOP walkout? We asked Senate President Rob Wagner

The biggest sticking point in the impasse, on which both sides appear to agree, is House Bill 2002. The bill, championed by Democrats, would require insurance companies to cover gender-affirming care. It would also allow people under the age of 15 to get an abortion without their parents’ permission.

Both Wagner and his adversary, Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp, have signaled that HB 2002 is non-negotiable. One side won’t kill it, the other side won’t let Senate business resume until it’s killed. There’s the rub.

But there was more to The Story’s conversation with Wagner. A transcript is available below of the second half of that interview, lightly edited for clarity.

On negotiating

Pat Dooris: Do you get pressure from the governor to stand strong on these issues and to find a solution?

Rob Wagner: I think the governor in her public statements has been very consistent on where she stands on these bills and also how people need to be showing up to work to vote on legislation, just like they do in almost every other state, or in their school boards, or their county commissions or everything else where a simple majority shows up. You can have robust debate on a bill or an issue or an idea, but then ultimately, if you don’t win the day — I’ve had a lot of bills that didn’t pass — ultimately, people are expecting us to show up and vote.

Dooris: But the Republicans, I think, would say that they are doing their job and representing their voters by not showing up. It’s the only way that they can block, you know, and we’ve gotten away from this baloney of the (bill summary readability standards) … but it’s the only way they can block what they think are very damaging bills. And so they’re not skipping work, they’re actually doing work and facing a lot of public criticism for it.

Wagner: Well, I think you just nailed it. I mean, there’s a lot of public criticism because I think the people are very concerned about whether or not you can have a small minority of elected officials determine the entire legislative agenda for the state of Oregon, for the majority. And that’s what a democracy is. And that’s all we’re asking people to do, remember. It’s not to say that we don’t want to have people voting. No, we’re just asking people to show up to work. They can still vote … we just want them to show up on the floor and make their, make their stand there in the public, not on the run.

Dooris: Do you think that capitulation in past years has emboldened the Republicans to do this?

Wagner: I mean, it’s hard to say. Um, it’s sort of —

Dooris: Like, not that they’re terrorists … but the big thing, you know, if you deal with terrorists, you’ll get more terrorism — and we’ve seen there’s been, you know, there’s been compromise with the walkouts in the past and here come more walkouts.

Wagner: Yeah. I mean, I understand the need for people to have fervent, disagreement on issues that impact their communities. I fully understand that, but-

Dooris: I’m just talking about the mechanism. Has it been a mistake in the past years and has that encouraged what’s going on right now?

Wagner: Well, I will say this and that is … when we’ve looked at the past, there has been a kill list. You wanted straight up answers. I’m gonna give you one. There has been kill lists. When we walked into this, when we walked into this session, we were just saying, ‘No more kill lists.’ The voters passed (Measure 113). This isn’t a time for the minority to be able to determine a kill list. I think that’s really bad policy. It’s bad politics. It’s not what the voters want us here doing. They want a democracy. And so if you want to talk about things that we’re governing for all four corners of Oregon, we’re here to do that work.

On mutual respect

Dooris: Do you and (Senate Republican Leader) Knopp get along?

Wagner: Well starting at the beginning of the legislative session, (more) than even before, we’ve had more than an open door. We started with lunch and then we, our office continues to send a weekly invitation to sit down for coffee and donuts and have an opportunity … and it’s unfortunate that he’s canceled out on a lot of those recently. We had some really robust negotiations around process issues, and I involved the speaker, the minority leaders in the House, the majority leaders, and we had a tabletop conversation. But, you know, my focus is honestly — it’s not on the personality, it’s just focusing on doing the work.

Dooris: Okay. But the reason I ask that is because in tough negotiations sometimes it is the personality, and do the two sides respect and trust each other? And do they get along so that maybe they can each move a quarter inch, which will bring them pain with their group, but maybe for the greater good.

Wagner: Yeah, I respect all legislators, all the Republicans.

Dooris: That’s not the, you know, that’s not that question, sir.

Wagner: Do, do I have respect for, for Senator Knopp in the position that he’s taking? Is that sort of the question or —

Dooris: The question is when you get along, you know, do you like him? Do you respect him? Do you trust him?

Wagner: Well, I mean, I’m going to let his own statements about me maybe be a little bit of a determination of how he feels about me.

Dooris: That’s not a yes.

Wagner: I will also say that you’re never going to hear me say a negative word about anyone in terms of their legislative service. When I walked into this legislative session and I took my oath of office, I said three things. One, good ideas come from everywhere. The second thing was that my door is always open to everyone. And the third thing is there’s always room for kindness. And I think we need more of that in our politics right now.

Dooris: You won’t find many people that argue with that.

HB 2002 revisited

Dooris: Getting back to the pressure that I suspect builds every day that this continues — I was reading in your bio, you have two sisters who are teachers. Don’t they call and say, “What are you doing with our education budget? When’s this coming through?”

Wagner: Yeah, I mean, quite the opposite. My family understands that we are here to make sure that we’re protecting our democracy.

Dooris: I want to talk to your sisters.

Wagner: Okay, I’ll give you their cell phone numbers! You can come over for Sunday dinner.

Dooris: Oh, I would like that.

Wagner: Okay. Yeah, that’d be good.

Dooris: And is there a point, again, where at some point you’re looking at the big picture and saying — things like the education funding, housing, public safety, all that — that that stuff is so important that we’re gonna sacrifice these other bills to get to the greater good?

Wagner: Well, I don’t think that that’s up for us to make that determination. Honestly, those are stacked up, ready to go. We have a process in the state Senate where House Bill 2002, that’s one we’ve been talking about quite a bit. I think —

Dooris: I’m hearing you say “No,” sir.

Wagner: … is ready to get voted on. And I think that people need to be committed to our democratic process. And so, yes, I mean — I agree that, you know, if I want to say the word “sacrifice,” I would say that it’s important that we’re considering things, all of it together.

Dooris: Okay. But there, you don’t see a time in three weeks where you say, “Okay, sorry everybody, but I’m going to make, as a statesman, this decision. The greater good is that we get these budgets and all these great laws that come through, we’re going to put these others to the side and make this happen.”

Wagner: One, I think it’s really important that there are 30 people just in the Senate. There are 60 in the House. And you would have to individually ask each individual where they stand. My sense is that the majority, both in the House and the Senate, want us taking these tough bills up and having conversations around budgets. So I don’t think you’re going to hear a lot of people saying we need to be setting aside bills because there are people that are walking off the job or that there’s an extreme minority that doesn’t want to show up to work.

Dooris: Okay. So I’m hearing you say no, there’s not going to be a point in two or three weeks where you — because as the Senate president, you do have quite a bit of power on what bills come up or don’t.

Wagner: Well, we have something called the order of business. And right now there is an order of business. And I think it was interesting that the Republicans staged their walkout right when House Bill 2002 was about to get a second reading and a third reading … There was definitely a strategy that they had walking into the session, knowing that that legislation was out there. But our intention, absolutely 100%, is to run the order of business. And that means that House Bill 2002 is in the order for consideration.

The Story’s Pat Dooris reached out to Senate Republicans to arrange for a similar interview, but they declined.

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