Should Oregon’s Legislators Be Punished For Skipping A Vote On Measure 113?

If voters adopt Ballot Measure 113 on November 8th, state politicians who have 10 or more unexcused absences from the House or Senate will be ineligible to serve for the upcoming term.

Republicans from Oregon frequently deserted the state Capitol between 2019 and 2021 to prevent the Democratic majority from passing bills. Their absence caused the 2020 session to conclude days before the constitutional limit, leaving dozens of problems unsolved and preventing lawmakers from approving a bill to reduce the state’s carbon emissions.

If passed, Measure 113 would put an end to a contentious political strategy that has become more and more common. However, it can potentially weaken the minority party’s influence at the state Capitol.

Voting in Oregon requires a quorum
The state’s budget is drafted by legislators, who also adopt new legislation. While most new legislation can be passed with a simple majority, Oregon requires a higher proportion of lawmakers to be present in order to vote.

A minimum of 20 out of 30 senators and 40 out of the 60 representatives in the House must be present.

That means that, even when their party holds a commanding majority in both chambers, parliamentarians typically require the presence of at least one or more members of the minority party in order to cast a vote. Democrats currently control 18 Senate seats and 37 House seats.

In recent years, Republicans have planned coordinated absences to stall or postpone votes on legislation they don’t like. As a result, lawmakers were unable to adopt a bill in 2019 to reduce the state’s carbon emissions, and the 2020 session was forced to adjourn days before the constitutional deadline, leaving dozens of matters unsolved.

Members of the House and Senate may “compel the attendance of absent members,” according to the state constitution. Legislators have in the past fled the state to evade state troopers who the governor has authorized to track out errant politicians inside the state of Oregon.

According to Ben Morris, the Secretary of State’s spokeswoman, if the proposal is approved, the elections division of the Oregon Secretary of State’s office would likely be responsible for enforcing the prohibition against running for office in the upcoming election.

Should Oregon's Legislators Be Punished
Should Oregon’s Legislators Be Punished

There are now more people walking out.
In the past, Oregon politics hardly ever saw walkouts. Republicans then abstained for three consecutive years, beginning in 2019.

In the 2019 session, Republicans left the room twice. As lawmakers left the state to avoid voting on a bill to decrease Oregon’s carbon emissions, the second Republican walkout propelled Oregon into the national spotlight.

The following year, the short session was mainly derailed by a Republican walkout over a revised version of the climate bill; only three pieces of legislation were carried, whereas short sessions frequently see dozens of bills pass.

Additionally, Democratic leaders adjourned the session days before what the constitution required.

Senate President Peter Courtney, a Democrat from Salem, declared at the time that “we are going to have to, either by a constitutional amendment, or legislative changes, or rules, drastically adjust this quorum situation.”

Later that November, supporters submitted a petition to remove absentee politicians from office, but the COVID-19 pandemic and social distance rules made it difficult to acquire enough signatures.

In order to get this year’s ballot, supporters submitted a new petition in December 2020. The required number of signatures was obtained this summer.

In the interim, Senate Republicans abstained from a floor vote in February 2021 in opposition to Governor Kate Brown’s COVID-19 containment measures, which included closing schools. To protest a plan to revise Congressional and legislative district lines, House Republicans left the room during a special session in September 2021.

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