Republicans in the Oregon Senate say they have many ideas that will benefit Oregon citizens, and they are willing to slow down this year’s upcoming legislative session to force Democrats to take them seriously.
In a Tuesday news conference, leaders of the 12-member Republican faction in the Senate presented dozens of bills they hope will pass by the time the legislature’s work is completed this summer. The list includes several bipartisan proposals, but also many ideas unlikely to be palatable to Democrats, who hold majorities in both houses and hold the governorship.
So while preaching a vision of bipartisan harmony, Senate Republicans said they will begin this year’s session with a tried-and-true tactic: forcing all bills to be read in full before they can receive a final vote in the Senate.
“If our colleagues in the Democratic majority want a bipartisan legislature, we’re all in,” Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp told R-Bend, “if they just want to lead a national progressive agenda of Nancy Pelosi and Nancy Pelosi [U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]we will fight them to the last breath of this session.”
The Oregon Constitution requires that all bills be read in their entirety before passage — a rule that can only be overturned by a two-thirds majority of lawmakers and that drastically slows the pace at which the Legislature can pass new legislation.
Until relatively recently, this provision was considered an outdated product of a time when laws were not easily accessible online. For years, it was common for lawmakers to agree to lift the rule for entire sessions to expedite the passage of bills.
Recently, however, reading bills has become commonplace in Salem, with both the House and Senate now using computer programs to read lengthy bills when relations between parties break down.
The party in the minority, most recently the Republicans, usually uses such braking tactics to gain leverage. In 2021, for example, House Republicans stopped reading bills after securing a promise from then-House Speaker Tina Kotek that they would be given an equal say in redrawing political maps — a promise that she later broke.
But Knopp declined to give specifics on Tuesday when asked what Republicans might aim for in a vote to waive the reading of legislation.
“It’s the responsibility of the minority to make sure everyone is heard and the majority is held accountable,” Knopp said. “So we’re going to see if they meet as a caucus … if we feel like we’re making progress and having a bipartisan meeting and our constituents are being heard and included, maybe we’ll reconsider.”
Staffers in Senate President Rob Wagner’s office had not seen a list of Republican demands as of Tuesday afternoon.
“My door is always open and I’ve reached out to Republicans,” Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, said in a statement. “We know there’s a lot of potential for bipartisan collaboration on housing, behavioral health, semiconductors and jobs, and I’m optimistic things are getting done.”
House Republicans have not indicated any plans to require bills to be read in this chamber. A spokeswoman, Claire Lynn, said Tuesday the House GOP feels it has a positive working relationship with Rep. Dan Rayfield’s office, but reserves all options should that relationship go awry.
The announcement of likely delaying tactics threatens to bring early grudges to a session where both parties seem to be agreeing on their priorities: housing and homelessness, mental health, addiction services, a deepening public defense crisis and more.
The list of bills introduced Tuesday by Senate Republicans, dubbed “Equitable Oregon” by GOP lawmakers, included proposals on most of these issues. But many are unpopular with Democrats, and similar ideas have not caught on in successive sessions. That includes bills to cut a new corporate tax passed in 2019 to raise money for education, ease requirements to reduce carbon emissions, strengthen gun owners’ rights, promote charter schools and curtail the governor’s emergency agency — nothing of which currently have a single Democratic sponsor.
Other bills offer bipartisan support, including a proposal that would give tax breaks to people who rent out rooms in their homes and another that would provide state funding to build housing for people on “moderate” incomes.
Knopp hinted Tuesday that Republican senators have not had time to get Democrats to sign many of their proposals. The legislative period began last week.
While Republicans are signaling they’ll be happy to use delaying tactics to exert influence this year, they’re balked at using a recently more effective tool: walking away from Salem to halt legislative action entirely.
Under a measure passed by voters in November, any lawmaker who accumulates 10 or more unexcused absences during such a strike will be barred from running for the legislature in the next term.
There currently appear to be no bills in the rotation that are controversial enough to force a strike, and Knopp said on Tuesday his members had no plans to test the new rules.
A challenge “would need an aggrieved party — someone who has 10+ absences — to be able to stand before a lawsuit can occur,” Knopp said. “No one has volunteered at this point.”