SALEM — Some of the 11 Republican senators who left the state to block a carbon cap bill have returned to Oregon, signaling the impasse that brought the Legislature to a standstill might be resolved.
Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, stopped short Thursday afternoon of saying he’s back. “I’m not in Idaho, but I’m not going to say where I am,” Knopp said. “Let’s just say I am a lot closer than I was yesterday.”
Sen. Cliff Bentz, R- Ontario, was less circumspect, confirming he was home.
“I was in Idaho the entire time, different hotels and motels,” Bentz told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “There were lots of offers of assistance, but I didn’t want to bother anyone … the sheer number of offers to help was mind-boggling.”
Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, declined to tell The Oregonian if he was back in Oregon, but said there would be an announcement by the Republican caucus Friday morning.
In another sign of possible movement, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, has canceled Friday’s scheduled floor session and told House members to be in Salem for a 10 a.m. Saturday session.
If the Republicans return, the Senate will have a quorum for the first time in more than a week. The 2019 session of the Legislature faces an end-of-Sunday deadline before the Oregon Constitution requires it to adjourn. More than 100 bills have been stalled by the stoppage.
To beat the clock, the Senate and House would likely have to meet for long hours over the weekend. If two-thirds of the lawmakers in each chamber agree, the session could be extended an extra five days.
Several legislators who support House Bill 2020, the carbon cap, said late Thursday that they were not accepting any deal that would capitulate to Republican demands.
“Senate Republicans are revising history and brushing aside false statements to the media to excuse their broken promises,” Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie, wrote on Twitter.
The bill would use a cap-and-trade plan that supporters say would cut greenhouse gas emissions to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. Advocates say the bill would make Oregon a leader in fighting climate change, while spurring “green” energy jobs and businesses. Opponents say it will drive up fuel prices and lead businesses to leave the state.
The 11 Republican senators left Salem the evening of June 19 to deny the Senate a quorum for a scheduled vote on HB 2020 the next day. The bill passed the House June 17 by a 36-24 vote after more than six hours of debate and seemed poised to pass in the Senate.
Oregon is one of four states that requires two-thirds of a legislative chamber be present to form a quorum allowing it to do business. Democrats hold an 18-11 majority in the Senate, but the departure of the Republicans left the Senate two members short of a quorum.
On June 20, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, requested that Gov. Kate Brown use her constitutional authority to order the Oregon State Police to compel lawmakers to return to the Capitol. Brown issued the order, but GOP senators who spoke with the media all said they were outside of the state, beyond the troopers’ jurisdiction.
None of the lawmakers would say Thursday if they had received assurances ahead of time that Brown’s order would not be enforced if they returned.
Brown’s office, Courtney’s office, and the Oregon State Police declined to comment.
Knopp said he was satisfied Thursday that HB 2020 would not come up for a vote if he returned to the Senate.
Courtney had said Tuesday that there were not enough votes in the Senate to pass the bill, which would mean at least some of the 18 Democrats opposed the legislation.
“We got the assurances we need,” Knopp said.
The apparent thaw in negotiations came on a day of a large “Timber Unity” demonstration at the Capitol in support of the Senate walkout. The rain-soaked rally drew several hundred people and included logging trucks and tractors circling the Capitol.
The Republican senators primarily represent rural areas in the east and south of Oregon. They’ve said the walk-out is a last-ditch effort to stymie Democratic legislative leaders from Portland and the Willamette Valley who were not listening to rural concerns. Opponents of the cap say the plan would most seriously impact less-populous parts of the state, with longer driving distances and businesses dependent on diesel-fueled heavy equipment.
Though the House was not meeting on Thursday and the Senate remained shut down without a quorum, Knopp credited the rally with reinvigorating negotiations.
“I think those people at the rally drove home the message really well that they feel their livelihoods are in jeopardy,” Knopp said. “After the rally, the bill is dead.”
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