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Oregon senators on either side of the aisle are being coy about the details, but it appears both parties got something out of a deal that saw a $2 billion tax pass to fund schools and the deaths of controversial measures to restrict guns and eliminate non-medical exemptions for childhood vaccines. The episode illustrates the limits of super-majority power when a determined minority refuses to cooperate.

Democrats have enough seats to pass tax increases with no Republican support. But Senate rules require at least 20 senators be present to hold a vote, and the Democrats hold only 18 seats. All 12 Republicans boycotted the chamber for seven floor sessions, leaving Senate President Peter Courtney unable to conduct business.

The rules allow Courtney to ask the governor to send state troopers after recalcitrant lawmakers and haul them back, but he didn't take that extreme step. That's to Courtney's credit; he said he'd rather see the Legislature work things out.

In the end, Democrats agreed to drop the gun and vaccine bills, despite strong support in their caucus for both measures, because the school funding bill was a top priority. When Republicans staged their walkout, they left signs on their desks on the Senate floor demanding reforms to the underfunded Public Employee Retirement System. They didn't end up with any clear promise of PERS action, although there is bipartisan legislation in the works that would limit benefits and reduce payments into the system.

Give and take always has been part of the legislative process, and it was refreshing to see it in action this week, even in a Legislature with one party controlling three-fifths of both chambers. Minority Republicans resorted to the only tools they had to resist a tax measure they did not support, starting with insisting that bills be read out loud in their entirety — a rule usually waived in the interest of time. Then they refused to show up, and used that leverage to extract concessions from the majority.

The tax measure passed anyway, but Republicans killed two other bills they strongly opposed. Majority Democrats, despite their power, were forced to make concessions, and that's good for the process.

The (Medford) Mail Tribune

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