Boycotting Oregon GOP senators vow to stay away until last day of session

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SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Republican senators whose walkout of the Oregon Senate has prevented a quorum for almost three weeks said Tuesday they're not coming back until the very last day of the legislative session next month.

The walkout, which began on May 3 ostensibly because bill summaries weren't written at an eighth grade level as required by a long-forgotten law, has derailed progress on hundreds of bills, including a sweeping measure on abortion rights and gender-affirming care that the conservatives particularly object to.

An email from Republican leader Sen. Tim Knopp's office said the Republicans and Independent Sen. Brian Boquist would return on June 25, the end of the legislative session, to pass “bipartisan” budgets and bills.

"We are the last line of defense to hold the majority accountable,” Knopp said.

The crisis in Oregon’s statehouse is a microcosm of the deeply partisan politics playing out nationwide, including recently in Tennessee and in Montana.

Republicans have boycotted in 2019, 2020 and 2021. This year’s standoff, however, has disqualified nine Republican senators and one Independent from serving as lawmakers in the next term, under a ballot measure approved overwhelmingly by boycott-weary voters last November. After 10 or more unexcused absences, a lawmaker can’t take office in the Legislature, even if the secretary of state’s elections division allows them on the ballot and they win.

The boycotters are expected to challenge the constitutional amendment in court.

Senate President Robert Wagner carried out a roll call again on Tuesday, and again he was two members short of reaching the 20 needed for a quorum of the 30-member Senate. Oregon is one of a few states that require at least two-thirds to be present, instead of a simple majority.

All the Democrats showed up, except one who has an excused absence for health reasons, and only two of the minority Republicans appeared.

“Senate Democrats will be here, doing our jobs, ready to pass the budget and act on urgent Oregon priorities today, tomorrow, and every day until session ends," said Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber. "Absent Republican Senators are welcome to end this unconstitutional walk out and make government work for the people of Oregon.”

Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek has signed a bill to keep funds flowing to state agencies until September if no budget has become law by July 1 and says she doesn’t think the state “is in crisis mode yet.”