SALEM — Despite a Senate deal to kill a bill to end all but medical exemptions for required vaccines for schoolchildren, the controversy shows little sign of going away.
“The concepts aren’t dead forever,” said Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis. “They are just napping for now.”
Senate Republicans had walked out last week, saying they wanted to deal with the $27 billion unfunded liability in the PERS public pension fund before voting on Democrat’s $2 billion tax package for education.
Though Democrats hold an 18-12 majority in the Senate, rules require that a minimum of 20 senators be on the floor for a quorum. By walking out, the GOP lawmakers stopped legislation in its tracks.
Over last weekend, a deal was hammered out between Senate leaders from both parties, along with Gov. Kate Brown.
Under the deal, Republicans would come back and promise no more walkouts or other legislative slow-down tricks.
Instead of PERS, Republicans said they would return if Democratic leaders agreed to kill two bills: Senate Bill 978, a sweeping gun control bill, and House Bill 3063, the vaccinations bill which had passed the House and was awaiting action in the Senate.
Among those pleased with the demise of the vaccination bill was Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend.
“HB 3063 would strip parents of their right to make medical decisions for their children and puts them in the hands of pharmaceutical corporations and government bureaucrats,” Knopp said Tuesday.
“Today is a major victory for parents and those who believe in medical freedom. Thank you to the thousands of Oregonians who made their voices heard over this issue.”
The moves cleared the way for GOP lawmakers to return for a keystone vote of the tax package, which was approved Monday on a party-line vote.
While agreeing HB 3063 was dead for 2019, bill supporters say they will be back with the concept later — perhaps in the 2020 session.
Gelser said she was not bound by any deal negotiated by a handful of Senate leaders. “Passing good policy is a goal,” Gelser said. “I wasn’t part of a ‘deal.’”
Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, a chief co-sponsor of the vaccine bill, said she was bothered that a public health issue approved by the House was horse-traded in a backroom deal instead of debated on the Senate floor.
“Disappointing that the loudest/most extreme voices in our politics prevailed+the sensible-center/thoughtful policy-making lost,” Helt wrote on Twitter.
Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said the deal could be seen as a reward for bill opponents.
“The people opposing that bill just behaved reprehensibly around the building,” Burdick told the Salem Reporter website.
“I’m afraid that some of them are going to feel those tactics worked. Those tactics had nothing to do with what happened today.”
Burdick’s comments, along with suggestions by other lawmakers that the vaccine bill could be resurrected at some point in the future, had bill opponents livid.
“Always remember nothing’s dead until 1) The final gavel falls, 2) The 2020 short session is over, 3) The makeup of the Legislature is changed drastically,” said Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, an outspoken opponent of the vaccination bill.
“That bill WILL return, mark my word.”
Post suggested to opponents that the only sure way to keep the vaccine bill off the legislative agenda was by voting in more Republicans at the next election.
“November 2020 is still 18 months away, don’t get complacent,” he said.
Jonathan Lockwood, spokesman for Post, Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, and Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, kept up a barrage of tweets: “@SenSaraGelser is already threatening after a deal was brokered to pass the heinous HB 3063 in the very short upcoming session. Shame on her. How does she sleep at night? How does she get away with this!?”
— Reporter: 541-640-2750, firstname.lastname@example.org