Oregon Senate votes to fine absentee senators $325 for each day they miss

SALEM, Ore. (KGW) — The Oregon Senate voted Thursday to fine state senators $325, starting Monday, for each day their absence restricts the Senate from establishing a quorum.

The GOP walkout began May 3 and is currently in its fifth week, the longest-ever walkout in the Oregon Legislature. Democrats hold 17 of the Oregon Senate’s 30 seats, but the chamber requires a quorum of at least 20 lawmakers, so Republicans have been able to halt proceedings by never having more than two Republicans show up each day.

On Thursday, after a vote from senate members in attendance, Oregon Senate President Rob Wagner said the $325 daily fines would begin Monday, June 5. The Story reported earlier this week that total lawmaker pay breaks down to about $325 per day during the walkout.

When Senate Republicans began the walkout on May 3, they said it was a protest because Democrats were violating an obscure state constitutional provision that requires bills to be “plainly worded.” Democrats immediately argued that Republicans were walking out to block the passage of Democratic bills, most notably House Bill 2002, which increases protections for abortion and gender-affirming health care.

In the month since, Republican senators have largely cited their opposition to HB 2002 as the reason for the walkout. On Wednesday, Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek said talks to end the boycott had failed. She expressed disappointment that Sen. Tim Knopp, leader of the minority Senate Republicans, had insisted that HB 2002 be, in her words, “substantially amended or dead.” Kotek said negotiating on that measure, which already passed the House, is not an option.

On Thursday, Sen. Kate Lieber, citing Article 4, Section 12 of the Oregon Constitution, asked the senate to compel absentee members to attend and fine them $325 each day they’re absent. The senators in attendance voted 16-2 in favor, with two Republican senators, David Brock Smith and Dick Anderson, voting no.

Wagner followed that with a speech and, like Lieber, he cited Article 4, Section 12 of the Oregon Constitution, which states the following:

“Two thirds of each house shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a smaller number may meet; adjourn from day to day, and compel the attendance of absent members. A quorum being in attendance, if either house fail to effect an organization within the first five days thereafter, the members of the house so failing shall be entitled to no compensation from the end of the said five days until an organization shall have been effected.”

During his speech, Wagner spoke about HB 2002, which he called “important legislation that will help vulnerable Oregonians.” He said it deserves a vote on the Senate floor.

“We see that the minority wants to kill a bill that has the support of the members of this body representing their constituencies and the majority of Oregonians,” Wagner said. “Folks, that isn’t a democracy, and that is a violation of our senators’ sacred constitutional oath.”

Wagner mentioned that state senators were paid Thursday for the past month of work.

“Oregonians work for a living, every day. And they don’t get paid when they don’t show up,” he said. “Our absentee colleagues have not shown up, on this Senate, on this floor, their constitutional requirement. They have not done the business for four weeks. Would any other worker, I ask you, get away with that?”

Knopp released a statement in response, criticizing Wagner and suggesting that Wagner should be responsible for paying Republican senators’ fines.

“One thing remains clear: President Wagner is insistent on facilitating an unlawful, uncompromising, unconstitutional agenda. Once again, he has retaliated against members who are exercising their right to peacefully protest his own unlawful, hyper-partisan actions,” Knopp said in the statement. “Senate Republicans don’t feel compelled to entertain his political theater. In fact, we suggest President Wagner pay our fines since it is his behavior that galvanized our protest.

“If Democrats want us to provide a quorum before June 25, they must agree to follow Senate Rules, follow the law, and work to put forward constitutional, bipartisan bills that don’t violate parents’ sacred right to love and care for their child. Senate Republicans will not be bullied into allowing the lawlessness to continue,” Knopp said.


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