Republicans are pulling out all the brakes to delay the Democrats’ plan, so this week, Democrats canceled most committee hearings. Legislative leaders said they aren’t concerned, even as they mull postponing a vote on g*n control.
This week, Republicans in the Oregon Legislature have resorted to a flurry of delay tactics, making it difficult for most Democrats to pass any of the measures sitting in committee quickly.
State Senate Republicans have doubled down on strategies they’ve been using since the beginning of this legislative session. To delay the work of the majority, Republicans have spent the whole year demanding that practically every measure be studied in its entirety before a final vote.
GOP senators have started using persistent speeches and dead-end motions to ensure the Democratic majority can pass fewer bills in a given day as the session shifts away from housing and semiconductors, areas of common bipartisan interest, and toward more contentious debates over topics like g*ns and gender-affirming health care.
Republican members of the House of Representatives, who have traditionally relied less on delay tactics, slowed things down this week by voting more slowly and debating various issues at greater length than usual. In one case, Republicans insisted that a computer read an entire 47-page measure, a task that took the machine over three hours to complete.
The Democrats’ hopes of speedily clearing a backlog as the session neared its midpoint were derailed by the determined efforts of the Republicans.
Rob Wagner, Democrat of Lake Oswego, and Dan Rayfield, Democrat of Corvallis, will suspend legislative committees on Monday, April 10, and Tuesday, April 11, to get through the backlog of legislation. Due to inefficiency, both leaders kept legislators on the floor all week instead of holding committee hearings.
Democrats said they are not worried about failing to enact their goals before the session ends on June 25. Republicans oppose some policy changes suggested by legislative leaders, including increased g*n laws, abortion access safeguards, an expansion of gender-affirming services covered by insurance, and strengthened rent control.
However, Democrats hinted at the possibility of making amendments this week to speed up the passage of their agenda.
On Wednesday, April 12, Representative Rayfield decided to table House Bill 2005, legislation restricting “ghost g*ns,” raising the minimum age to purchase many firearms to 21, and perhaps expanding the number of locations where concealed handg*ns are outlawed.
Some Republicans had advocated for delay tactics earlier in the day, but in return for pushing out the vote on the measure until early May, they decided to tone them down.
“We’re doing it to keep the peace,” said Democratic state representative Rob Nosse of Portland. “That way, we won’t have to have every bill read aloud, and everybody get up and talk about every bill for days and days on end,” the senator said.
Democrats have been persuaded to drop g*n control initiatives to speed up the passage of other, more lucrative legislation. On Thursday, April 13, Rayfield said he would not do so.
To OPB, he said, “One thing that’s been important to me is not negotiating away things,” He was delighted to offer Republicans a window of opportunity to express their displeasure. “We started moving into a few of the options that people are extremely passionate about. That’s what you started to see this week.”
The GOP’s interest in postponing a vote on HB 2005 stems from the party’s contention that the bill’s implementation raises serious constitutional concerns. A recent Texas federal court judge has questioned ghost g*n bans instituted by the Biden administration.
House Minority Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville, cited a legislative attorney’s statements from a hearing last week when she stated, “Serious constitutional questions have been asked about House Bill 2005 B, and legislative counsel admits to constitutional concerns being an open question.” “Not only should these questions be answered, but the Legislative body should not knowingly pass legislation that will end up in a lawsuit.”
Breese-Iverson said that by postponing the vote, Republicans would have “time for questions to be answered before Senators voting on such serious legislation.”
Thursday saw fruit from the ceasefire. After only taking up 26 pieces of legislation on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, the House had passed 14 by midday on Thursday. Legislators would not return to the Capitol on weekends to continue working on proposals.
Rayfield remarked sarcastically that fewer MPs had risen to offer “courtesies,” the kind of upbeat remarks in which legislators praise visiting constituents or dignitaries that are frequently used as a weapon to eat into other people’s time.
“Courtesies only took 30 minutes today,” Rayfield said. “Previously this week, we have been a heck of a lot more courteous, so we are slipping.”
The Senate was a less likely place for change to occur. This week, Republican senators have spent hours each day working on a series of resolutions asking for votes to be called on legislation relating to public safety, agriculture, and schools. The proposals backed by Republicans are sure to perish in committee.
When such efforts fail, Republicans often submit “vote explanations,” which draws out the process more. Republican senators rose and extended the courtesy to their Democratic counterparts. Although the remarks were flattering, at least one of the recipients found them annoying.
“Our time here is really valuable. We have a lot of important business to do,” said state Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, after a courtesy singing his praises for “graciously serving the people of Oregon,” among other things. “I want to extend my appreciation, but let’s make Dembrow the last person recognized on this floor.”
Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend) has been vocal about his intention to fight Democrats this session if they try to obstruct Republican agendas or promote ideas that his caucus strongly opposes.
Knopp recently made the following statement to OPB: “(Democrats) want to run their progressive liberal agenda, and we will do what we can to stop it.” Said, “because we don’t believe the vast majority of Oregonians, including those we represent, believe in the progressive liberal agenda.”
On many occasions, Senate President Wagner has said that he and Senator Knopp have not talked about horse trading legislation and that Knopp has not made any requests in exchange for Senate Republicans stopping slow-down tactics.
Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber claimed this week that Democrats had nothing to worry about during an interview during one of the many long floor sessions.
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“These are delay tactics,” said Lieber, a Portland Democrat, “and it’s not going to interfere with the Democratic agenda.”
Lieber argued that there was still plenty of time to pass Democratic priorities during the remaining two months of the session, mainly because voters supported a referendum amendment last year, making legislative walkouts much more difficult. She said, “We’ve got tools in the tool belt or arrows in the quiver, or however you want to put it.”
One possibility, Lieber said: Using the Democratic majority to tweak chamber rules in a manner that might help the Senate work more effectively.
“We don’t need to go to those places yet,” she said. “But we do have the ability, if need be, to make the process work for Oregonians.”
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