Oregon GOP senators end 6-week strike after new deals on abortion, gun bills
The Oregon Senate is seen during a vote in the state capitol in Salem, Oregon on Thursday, June 15, 2023. Enough Republican members showed up in the Oregon Senate on Thursday to end a six-week strike that it disrupted the work of the legislature and blocked hundreds of bills, including some on abortion, transgender healthcare and gun safety. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)
SALEM, Oregon (AP) Following a strike that blocked key bills for six weeks, Republicans showed up for work in the Oregon Senate Thursday after wringing concessions from Democrats on measures affecting abortion, health care transgender and the right to guns.
The longest strike by lawmakers in state history and the second longest in the United States came as several states across the nation were ideological battlegrounds, including Montana and Tennessee.
The Republican boycott, which prevented the state Senate from reaching the two-thirds quorum needed to pass the bills, was sparked by a large abortion and gender-affirming measure that Republicans called too extreme. The measure would allow doctors to provide abortions regardless of a patient’s age, with health professionals not required to notify a minor’s parents in some cases.
As part of the deal to end the strike, Democrats agreed to change the language on parental notifications for abortion.
Under the compromise, if an abortion provider believes that notifying the parents of a patient under the age of 15 is not in the patient’s best interest, the doctor would not have to notify the parents but would need another provider to advise. agreement. However, no second opinion would be needed if the involvement of a parent or guardian would lead to patient abuse or neglect.
Democrats said the measure would still guarantee access to abortions and protect health care workers from anti-abortion or gender-affirming assistance measures passed by other states. It will also require that health insurance cover medically necessary gender-affirming care.
Democrats also agreed to scrap several amendments to a bill that would punish the manufacture or transfer of undetectable firearms. The now removed clauses would have raised the purchase age from 18 to 21 for semi-automatic rifles and placed greater limits on concealed carry.
Democrats immediately filed new versions of both measures that reflected the accords, and the Senate then passed them. The bills, which previously passed the House, now go to Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek for her signature.
I am encouraged that we were able to reach an agreement that will allow us to finish the important job Oregonians have sent us here to do, Democratic Senate Chairman Rob Wagner told reporters.
The Republicans, who are the minority party, saw it as a victory.
Parental rights will not be ignored with regards to minors seeking abortion and gender-affirming care, Republican Sen. Lynn Findley said. The constitutional rights to own and bear arms will not be eviscerated, especially for citizens aged 18 to 21.
GOP leader Senator Tim Knopp had said the boycott that began on May 3 would end only in the final day sessions on June 25 to pass bipartisan legislation and budget bills. But an optimistic mood swept across the Capitol this week as GOP and Democrat leaders met to negotiate compromises. On the Senate floor Thursday, Knopp said he looked forward to ending the session in a remarkably bipartisan fashion.
We asked for legal, we asked for constitutional, we asked for a compromise, and I see it from you, Knopp said to Wagner after Thursday’s roll call. We appreciate everyone involved.
The longest walkout in Oregon legislature history occurred despite voters passing a campaign measure in 2022 that disqualifies lawmakers with 10 or more truancy from reelection.
A whole bunch of lawmakers won’t be able to go back to this building, Wagner said.
But Republican senators are likely to sue over the measure if they are not allowed to register as candidates, starting in September, for the 2024 election. Republicans also walked out in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
On June 1, Senate Democrats voted to fine Senators $325 each time their absence denied a quorum.
On Wednesday, more than 40 Democratic House and Senate members in Oregon sponsored a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the state constitution to require the presence of a majority of each house in the legislature to conduct business. If passed by the legislature, it would go ahead of Oregon voters on a campaign measure in the 2024 election. However, Wagner said on Thursday the measure was unlikely to pass this year with hundreds of other bills pending.
The strike also blocked the approval of the two-year state budget. Kotek can bring lawmakers back for a special session if the House and Senate do not pass budgets by the end of the regular session.
There are 17 Democrats in the 30-member Senate, which means at least three Republican or independent members must run to reach a quorum. Five GOP members were in attendance Thursday, and Democratic leaders said Republicans had promised to provide enough Senators to reach a quorum for the remainder of the session.
Republicans had originally said they were boycotting because the bill’s summaries didn’t satisfy a long-forgotten state law that required them to be written at a level an eighth-grader could understand.
The strike is the second longest of any U.S. state, after Rhode Island, according to a list in Ballotpedia.
In 1924, Republican senators from Rhode Island fled to Rutland, Massachusetts and were away for six months, ending Democratic efforts to hold a popular referendum on holding a constitutional convention.
That self-imposed exile followed the detonation of a gas bomb in the Senate chamber. Democrats and Republicans have both accused each other of unleashing it.
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