By State Representative Rob Nosse
I must submit these columns a week in advance, which can be dangerous when things in politics change fast. Prior to submission, I wrote this column many different ways. I have gone from being disappointed to sad to angry and then resigned and then feeling all those emotions all over again. I went back and forth about what to say and how to say it. Here is where I am at.
Imagine putting your heart and soul into something like hospital staffing or a solution to drug pricing that you worked on for over a year with many people and groups in multiple meetings just to have it all amount to nothing because the process gives the minority party veto power over a few bills that they really don’t like so everything that is worked on is jeopardized.
As you may have guessed I am talking about the fact that we have yet another “walk out” from Senate Republicans preventing us from legally legislating and passing bills. I get that the Republicans are upset and don’t like abortion (HB 2002) and gun safety (HB 2005) bills, but they didn’t win majorities in the last elections in part because of these issues and a few others. (I was proud to vote yes on these bills. I am one of the chief sponsors of HB 2002.)
The Senate cannot go about its daily business without a two-thirds quorum present, meaning that 20 out of the 30 senators must be in the chamber for a bill to go to a vote. Since there are only 17 Senate Democrats, no vote can go on without at least three of the Republicans showing up. The same rule applies in my chamber, the House.
The Republicans are claiming that they are skipping work because bills aren’t passing a “readability test,” an obscure 1979 law that requires legislation to be written at an eighth or ninth grade reading level. By the way, they’ve had no issues with the readability of the other bills we’ve passed throughout the session. Conveniently, they started pulling this gimmick just in time to delay work on HB 2002 and HB 2005.
My colleagues and I had hoped that the passage of Ballot Measure 113 would allow for some protest but would keep them from using the quorum rule to veto bills that they didn’t like and eventually bring them back to work. That measure says if you miss more than 10 days without an excuse you are ineligible to run for re-election. It passed this past November with 68 percent of voters saying “yes.” Maybe not every Senator wants to keep running and serving but we thought enough would.
My colleagues and I have worked hard on the abortion and gun safety legislation. Both bills were created with community input, bringing together stakeholders from across the state. Most Oregonians believe that our state should be a haven for people to make the health care decisions that are right for them and given the amount of gun violence in our country, they would like us to do something about that, too. Republicans clearly don’t agree, and that’s fine, but they were elected to represent their constituents’ values within the legislature, not from their homes.
We’ve seen this tactic before, in 2019, 2020 and 2021. It’s becoming the Republicans routine play whenever they see bills they don’t like. They killed bills that would have strengthened vaccination requirements, capped greenhouse gas emissions and strengthened gun safety laws. The minority party should be able to voice their opposition and protest legislation they don’t agree with, but they shouldn’t be able to derail entire legislative sessions.
Our legislative process is supposed to be a majority rule system. The minority party cannot continue to use the quorum rule to veto the will of the majority if we are going to have a functional democracy.
So here is the thing, I support not giving in and letting these two bills and others die this session. It will mean in the short run very little is accomplished. We cannot keep letting the minority party hold this whole state hostage and kill bills using the quorum rule that they don’t like when a majority of elected leaders want to pass something.
The Senate Republicans have already walked off for more than 10 days. Many of them are now no longer eligible to run for reelection. Again, in the short run it means those two bills and a lot of others that are not as controversial die; but we get to test the law that just passed that says if you have 10 or more unexcused absences you may not stand for re-election.
It sucks in the short run because a lot of other less controversial bills die too but we must let Ballot Measure 113 play out and get out of this cycle of the minority vetoing things they don’t like every session by not showing up to work.
If Ballot Measure 113 doesn’t work, I suspect we will take another run at the quorum rule. Most states have a half plus one quorum rule. We may just have to join them. Stay tuned.