Democratic members of the Oregon Legislature had hoped to vote Tuesday on Senate Bill 1530, the 2020 version of cap-and-trade legislation. They won’t get that chance. Senate Republicans said Monday they’d leave town after Senate Bill 1530 was voted out of committee for action by the full Senate.
Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, did stay behind, but it would take two Republicans in Salem to give the Senate the quorum it needs to do business.
House Republicans, meanwhile, staged their own version of a mini-walkout this year, when, on Feb. 18, most — Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, did not leave — skipped an evening session of that body because they said they weren’t being given adequate time to study important measures.
Adding to the uncertainty over SB 1530, Sen. Shelly Boshart-Davis, R-Albany, made public on Friday an opinion she sought from the Legislature’s lawyers about a couple of important provisions in the bill.
Boshart-Davis asked the Legislative Counsel’s office if proceeds from emissions allowance auctions are a tax — yes — and, further, if some of those proceeds amount to a fuel tax — again, yes — and therefore must be spent on state highways, as required by the state constitution.
There were qualifications, to be sure, but the counsel’s office response lent credence to the idea that lawsuits almost certain to be filed after the bill becomes law could be successful.
All of which makes the ultimate fate of SB 1530 and its House counterpart, HB 4167, an issue, with or without a walkout.
Democratic lawmakers may well be willing to bank on the counsel’s hesitations and push the climate legislation vote through, assuming they have enough bodies to conduct business. But there’s also a way they could have a hand in bringing Republicans back, and they should consider it.
They could simply amend 1530 to refer it to the voters on passage. After all, there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state, upping their chances of success of a referendum were to occur.
More important, SB 1530 is a major change to the way we do business in Oregon, and big ideas are far more likely to succeed if there’s voter buy-in on them. A popular vote could provide it.