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Oregon Democrats aim to change quorum after GOP walkouts

August 23, 2019
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FILE - In this June 29, 2019, file photo, lawmakers convene at the Oregon Senate after the minority Republicans ended a walkout they had begun on June 20 over a carbon-emissions bill they said would harm their rural constituents, at the Oregon Senate in Salem, Ore. After two walkouts this year by minority Republicans in the Oregon Legislature snarled the chamber's business, Democrats say they will ask voters to change quorum rules. That will allow lawmakers to convene with only a simple majority present. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File)
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FILE - In this June 29, 2019, file photo, lawmakers convene at the Oregon Senate after the minority Republicans ended a walkout they had begun on June 20 over a carbon-emissions bill they said would harm their rural constituents, at the Oregon Senate in Salem, Ore. After two walkouts this year by minority Republicans in the Oregon Legislature snarled the chamber's business, Democrats say they will ask voters to change quorum rules. That will allow lawmakers to convene with only a simple majority present. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — After two walkouts this year by minority Republican senators in the Oregon Legislature, Democrats said Friday they will ask voters to change quorum rules, allowing the statehouse to convene with only a simple majority of lawmakers present instead of the current two-thirds requirement.

The boycotts by the Republicans prevented the Senate from convening. Democrats dropped proposals on gun control and vaccines and Democratic Gov. Kate Brown ordered the state police to bring the missing lawmakers back during the second walkout.

The Republicans left the state to avoid apprehension, and returned only after Democratic Senate President Peter Courtney announced her party lacked the votes to unilaterally pass a sweeping bill to combat global warming.

Senate Democrats said that Majority Leader Ginny Burdick will introduce a constitutional amendment in the 2020 legislative session to lower quorum requirements. Voters would then decide on the proposed change in the 2020 election.

“Stopping the work of the people by denying a quorum is unconscionable and undemocratic,” Burdick, a Portland Democrat, said in a statement. “I hope our Republican colleagues now see that this is not a tactic that should ever be used again.”

There was no immediate comment from Republicans.

“Democrats were not happy when Republicans walked out on them this year. I believe Republicans were just as upset when Democrats walked out on them in 2001,” Courtney said.

Courtney also announced Friday that the Legislature will not fine the 11 state senators who left the state to deny a quorum during the second walkout that lasted nine days. They had faced a $500 fine for each day they missed. Courtney said attempting to collect the fines would have resulted in costly litigation.

“Walkouts are a measure that should never be used,” he said. “It deeply saddens me that we cannot have debates without resorting to such extremes.”

Senate Democrats said all but three other states require a simple majority for a quorum. In Oregon, the current quorum means 20 senators and 40 members of the House of Representatives must be present to conduct business. Under a simple majority, only 16 must be present in the Senate and 31 in the House.

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Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky

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