SALEM — Senate Republicans will return to the Capitol on Saturday, ending a nine-day walkout that brought the Legislature to a grinding halt.
Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, held a news conference Friday to say the 11 members of his caucus had decided to end the impasse after receiving guarantees that House Bill 2020, the carbon cap legislation, would not come up for a vote.
“The Senate president said it is dead. The governor said it was dead,” Baertschiger said.
Republican senators are returning to Salem, and Baertschiger said he expected most would get there in time for a session Saturday.
“I anticipate the Senate Republican caucus will be on the floor at 9 o’clock,” Baertschiger said. “We have a constitutional duty to pass the budget bills.”
The 11 Republican senators have not attended Senate sessions since June 20, leaving the 30-member Senate without the 20 members required for a quorum to do business. Many left Oregon to avoid Oregon State Police, who were ordered by Gov. Kate Brown to compel lawmakers to return to Salem.
The House has scheduled a Saturday session in anticipation of the Senate’s return.
The GOP walkout left nearly 150 bills backed up in the Senate, all of which would die if lawmakers did not act by the constitutional deadline to adjourn at the end of Sunday.
“I am confident we can pass the budget, all the budgets, work through all the policy bills and be out of here by midnight Sunday,” Baertschiger said.
In addition to several budget bills, legislation in limbo includes family paid medical leave, a proposed tobacco tax referral to the ballot, allowing undocumented residents to get a driver’s license and a low-income tax credit.
Several bills of importance to Deschutes County could come up for votes. On the list of legislation: $8 million for developing the Redmond campus of Central Oregon Community College, $10 million for Deschutes Water Basin piping irrigation, $250,000 for the High Desert Museum renovation and a $1 million program that could include the creation of a “sobering center” in Bend.
Also pending is an estimated $300 million in state bonds that would be set aside for higher education construction and renovation projects to be chosen in 2020. Oregon State University-Cascades hopes to tap into the bonds for $17 million to help pay for a Student Success Center. Also pending is a bill to name the portion of U.S. Highway 26 within Oregon as the “POW/MIA Memorial Highway.” The bill was sponsored by Deschutes County lawmakers and veterans.
Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said midday Friday that he was driving from Bend to Salem to attend Saturday’s session.
A top priority for him is to amend a bill that allocates new circuit court judgeships. Despite a request from Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters to add several new circuit court justices around the state, the Joint Committee on Ways & Means forwarded a bill to the House that approves just two new justices — one each for Marion and Jackson counties.
“Obviously, we would love to get Deschutes County added to the list,” Knopp said. “It’s critically important.”
Knopp said he hoped the Senate will take up House Bill 3450, which would allow Bend to redevelop old strip malls along Third Street into buildings that would have shops on the ground floor and apartments on floors above.
Knopp said the walkout was tough on everyone but was necessary to get Democrats to include Republicans in a shaping legislation.
“Obviously, the process broke down on both sides,” he said. “When the sides stop talking, it’s a bad thing.”
Sen Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that the return of the Republicans was a relief.
“I’m really glad that we’re going to be able to go back to doing the people’s work, and get the remaining 140-ish policy and budget bills moved forward,” she said.
In a Twitter message late Wednesday, Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, who has led the fight for the carbon cap, appeared resigned to the issue getting pushed off to a later date. In a response to a tweet against the bill, Denbrow promised it would be revived.
“We are going to create Oregon’s Climate Action Program,” Denbrow wrote. “Maybe not this week. But we must and we will. You know that. Oregonians know that. This is not about misleading rhetoric. It’s about stepping up to lead the fight against climate change & build up Oregon’s economy.”
The Senate Republican caucus added a 12th member today when Rep. Denyc Boles, R-Salem, resigned her seat to take an appointment to the Senate. Boles was chosen by Republican leaders to fill the seat left vacant by the death last month of Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem.
Boles was sworn in Friday during a ceremony at Redmond City Hall presided over by Secretary of State Bev Clarno. Though Boles will represent Salem, the Redmond location was chosen so that Boles’ son, an OSU-Cascades student, could attend.
With Boles’ taking her Senate seat, the chamber will be back to the 18-12 Democratic majority resulting from last November’s election.
— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.