Oregon Senate Republicans return to Salem for Thursday session

SALEM, Ore. (KGW) — Business is resuming on the Oregon Senate floor Thursday for the first time in six weeks, marking the end of the longest legislative walkout in state history.

After taking roll call, the Oregon Senate reached a quorum of 20 lawmakers, with the GOP senators who returned to Salem.

Republican senators, joined by one Independent, began shunning the chamber May 3 to deny a quorum, ensuring that no bills could be passed as long as the walkout endured. Originally the caucus cited long-forgotten readability standards for bill summaries as the reason for the protest, but it became increasingly clear over time that the schism revolved around the contents of House Bill 2002 — legislation championed by Democrats to expand access to abortion and gender-affirming care.

RELATED: Here’s what the Oregon bill on abortion, gender-affirming care would actually change

Negotiations between Senate Democratic leadership and Republicans quickly hit a wall as neither side appeared willing to budge on HB 2002. Gov. Tina Kotek intervened and continued talks with Republicans for a time, but she eventually acknowledged that she’d reached a similar impasse.

Murmurings of movement began earlier this week and reached a fever pitch on Wednesday. Sources in the legislature told KGW that a press conference to announce the deal would happen that afternoon, then walked it back. But there were signs that Democratic and Republican leadership had been meeting to hash out the details.

There were a few other key developments Wednesday that signaled change. First, Democrats in the House held their first reading of House Joint Resolution 30, which proposes a constitutional amendment to Oregon’s two-thirds quorum requirement, changing it to a simple majority.

Constitutional amendments must be approved by voters, so HJR 30 would need to pass both chambers in the legislature and then pass as a ballot measure during a future election. Forty Democrats signed on in support of the resolution.

The Associated Press reported that sponsors were not optimistic about HJR 30 passing this session, so they have discussed trying again next year. It could also be circulated as an initiative petition and appear on ballots if it gathers sufficient signatures.

Early on in the walkout, nine Republican senators and Republican-turned-Independent Sen. Brian Boquist ran afoul of Measure 113, a ballot initiative approved by voters in 2022 that specifically took aim at legislative walkouts. Under the law, lawmakers are forbidden from holding the same office next term after hitting 10 unexcused absences in the legislature.

Despite the clear consequences of walking out after the passage of Measure 113, Republicans expressed optimism that they’d be able to challenge the law’s constitutionality in court, or otherwise evade it through textual loopholes.

In a change from prior weeks, and in an apparent gesture of goodwill, Senate President Rob Wagner gaveled in Senate floor sessions this week without conducting a roll call — ensuring that Republicans are not fined $325 for unexcused absences as they have been since a rule change that began June 5.

The Story’s Pat Dooris spoke to Wagner, the top Democrat in the chamber, in late May. At the time, Wagner stood firmly behind the decision not to back down on HB 2002, indicating that it would remain at the top of the Senate docket whether Republicans returned or not.

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

Prior to this week, Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp had insisted that members of his caucus would only return at the very final day of the session, June 25, and only to pass “substantially bipartisan budgets and bills.”

Hundreds of bills remained stuck in various parts of the legislature throughout the walkout, many of them supported by both parties and some of them of vital importance. With little more than a week left in the session, it’s unclear how many bills will be taken up by the Senate for a floor vote before sine die on June 25.

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