“Please return to this chamber”: Oregon GOP senators walkout over cap-and-trade bill

MEDFORD, Ore — Oregon Senate Republicans took a stand for a second time on a controversial climate bill Monday, walking out of the capitol and threatening to leave the state.

Senate Republicans walked out in protest of the cap-and-trade bill Monday morning. Democrats support the bill but Republicans said they refused to work with them, leaving them with no choice but to walk out.

“Senate Republican lawmakers have chosen to walk off the job,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) said. Discussing the walkout she added, “The legislation in front of us is significantly different than before.”

Cap-and-trade is a term used for capping the amount of carbon companies can release into the air. If companies stay under that cap, they can trade their leftover emissions allowance to others. One of the amendments Republicans proposed Monday morning included a proposal to refer the climate plan to voters. Democrats voted that down.

“People want to vote on this,” State Representative Duane Stark (R – Grants Pass) said in the committee Monday. “People have been speaking. They want to be heard and they want their voices to matter by a vote. Let’s put it on the ballot.”

Democrats tried to appeal to Republicans by easing the strain on rural Oregon, but it wasn’t enough to gather any support.

The Joint Committee on Ways and Means voted to pass the bill to the Senate floor 13 to 9. The committee is unbalanced with 21 members: 12 senators and 10 representatives. There are seven Democratic senators, five Republican senators, seven Democratic representatives and three Republican representatives. The committee’s Senate vote was deadlocked with one Senate Democrat joining Republicans, causing a 6 to 6 tie. Democratic Senate President Peter Courtney (D – Salem) then used his official powers to join the committee and vote “yes,” breaking the tie. The move didn’t sit well with Republicans.

“It’s not in here that says the Senate President can vote,” State Senator Chuck Thomsen (R – Hood River) said in the committee hearing.

“It specifies in the case of a tie in a vote,” Senate Secretary Lori Brocker clarified, “which is different than the total count of members for a quorum.”

“There are more than enough votes on this floor to pass it,” Sen. Courtney said while convening the Senate session, “there just is.”

Democrats are saying the senators walked out on their responsibility to serve their constituents but it’s recently been done before on cap-and-trade. Last summer senate Republicans walked out for more than a week over a similar bill. They said the Democrats are ignoring the areas representing nearly two million Oregonians that have come out against cap-and-trade.

Grants Pass Republican and Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. said Senate Republicans had no other option but to walk out. He said:

“Senator Courtney’s actions leave no other option for Senate Republicans but to boycott and deny quorum because cap and trade is on the way to the Senate floor. Democrats refused to work with Republicans and denied every amendment that was presented. Pay attention Oregon – this is a true example of partisan politics. Instead of referring this legislation to let the people decide, the Democrats are willfully ignoring 26 counties and one district, representing nearly 2 million Oregonians that have signed proclamations against cap and trade, to push their agenda.”

Jackson County Commissioners sent out an email two weeks ago asking other counties to join them and take a unified stance against the bill. They got responses from 23 of Oregon’s 36 counties all against the bill.

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