SALEM, Ore. — When the Oregon Legislature began its whirlwind 35-day session two weeks ago, Republicans employed a rarely-used tool to stall the legislative process.
The issue centers around the fact that each bill is being read aloud in its entirety before lawmakers can cast votes, a constitutional requirement usually avoided on the first day of the session by a two-thirds vote in both chambers. But without support of the Republican minority, the bills are being read in full. The GOP is pushing the tactic because it is unhappy with the policy changes being proposed by Democrats.
That became problematic Monday when that tactic prompted House lawmakers to hold a marathon floor debate for more than six hours, forcing the delay and eventual rescheduling of several committee hearings and floor votes to the following day – costing time that is already limited for this year’s jam-packed short session.
“These obstructionist, D.C.-style politics are not what Oregonians expect from the legislature. To be clear, these political stunts won’t stop us from standing up for Oregonians’ priorities.” House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, said in a statement.
Lawmakers were able to cast their vote that day on House Bill 4014, an uncontroversial marijuana-related measure that would allow out-of-state businesses to enter Oregon’s burgeoning pot industry by removing a two-year residency requirement. It passed with a 48-11 vote – but it took more than three hours to get through reading the bill’s 51 pages.
By the time lawmakers finished reading the 18 pages of House Bill 4036 – a highly controversial proposal that would make sweeping changes to Oregon’s energy policies by eliminating coal power in Oregon by 2030 and double the state’s renewable energy standard by 2040 – the day was wrapping up and lawmakers had limited time for debate.
“The bill applies to about two-thirds of the power use in Oregon … it effects about 1.4 million Oregonians,” said Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario. “The bill is exceedingly complex, and I’ll tell you that in order for me to understand the bill – and I still don’t – I called some of my friends in the utility business and talked to them about it at length and had them review it for me. There are parts of this bill that are great, there are others that are perfectly horrid.”
House lawmakers ultimately approved that package by a 39-20 vote, sending the proposal to the Senate for further debate.
The House floor debate ended shortly thereafter, delaying a vote on four other bills until Tuesday so lawmakers could convene a hearing on the minimum wage-hike proposal – one of the last chances of the session the public had to testify on the matter.
Republicans have been clamoring about the policy changes before the Legislature this year, saying a short session isn’t a proper venue for such things as raising the minimum wage or overhauling Oregon’s energy policies, among others. Democrats argue they have no choice but to face these issues this year, or otherwise more aggressive proposals will go before voters on the November ballot.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, deployed her own strategy on Monday by requiring each lawmaker, in alphabetical order, to take turns reading the bills, giving some relief to the reading clerks usually responsible for the task.
“We have an obligation to take on the tough issues our state is facing,” Kotek said in a statement. “While procedural delay tactics are part of politics, it’s my job to elevate our work and make sure the chamber functions efficiently. We have an opportunity to pass meaningful legislation this session that will improve people’s lives – an opportunity we will not bypass simply because of political games – so I have advised House members to be prepared for evening and weekend sessions.”
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