In Oregon, Democrats seek to end GOP boycotts of Legislature

FILE - In this June 20, 2019, file photo, lawmakers convene at the Oregon Senate in Salem Ore. Walkouts by Republicans in Oregon's Legislature have become so frequent, with GOP lawmakers torpedoing progressive legislation, that Democrats want to sanction boycotters with $500 daily fines and even disqualify them from holding office. Democrats hold the majority in the state House and Senate. ( AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File)
FILE - In this June 20, 2019, file photo, lawmakers convene at the Oregon Senate in Salem Ore. Walkouts by Republicans in Oregon's Legislature have become so frequent, with GOP lawmakers torpedoing progressive legislation, that Democrats want to sanction boycotters with $500 daily fines and even disqualify them from holding office. Democrats hold the majority in the state House and Senate. ( AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

SALEM, Ore. – Walkouts by Republicans in Oregon's Legislature have become so frequent, with GOP lawmakers torpedoing progressive legislation, that Democrats want to sanction boycotters with $500 daily fines and even disqualify them from holding office.

The issue has become acrimonious, with Democrats saying the boycotts harm the democratic functioning of the state. Oregon is particularly vulnerable to boycotts because, while 46 of the other statehouses in America require only a simple majority for a quorum, the northwestern state requires two-thirds of lawmakers to be present.

Democrats have most of the seats in the Oregon Legislature, but lack the two-thirds majority to conduct business if Republicans stay away.

On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Rules held an emotional public hearing on four measures that seek to deprive Republicans of the leverage from quorum rules that critics say they have weaponized.

“I’m looking forward to engaging in a debate about how we can continue to address this flaw in our democracy,” said Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner, the committee chairman.

This is the third straight year in which Republicans have used walkouts. They have also sometimes insisted that bills be read in full, causing bills to stack up after they leave committees, and delaying floor votes on them.

The Legislature's 2020 session ended early, and acrimoniously, because of a Republican boycott over a climate change measure. House Speaker Tina Kotek said then that Republicans violated their constitutional duty of voting on bills, adding: “We have been held hostage by a small group of elected representatives.”

The previous year, a GOP senator indicated he'd resist with gunfire if state troopers were sent to bring him back to the Capitol.