We may never know all the details of the behind-the-scenes negotiations that resulted in the deal that pulled Senate Republicans back to the Capitol this week.
But, like many compromise deals, it's one that likely left a bit of a sour taste in the mouths of many lawmakers.
By now, you know the general outlines of the story: Senate Republicans, looking for a way to delay or possibly derail the passage of a gross receipts tax on certain Oregon businesses, played what really might have been their only card: They left the Capitol, leaving the Senate two votes short of the 20-member quorum required for that chamber to conduct business.
Because the bill raised revenue, it required a three-fifths majority (18 votes in the Senate) to pass. It already had passed the House. Republican leaders must have thought for a time that there was a chance that one of the 18 Democrats in the Senate might waver on the bill, which earmarks all the money raised (about $1 billion a year) for K-12 public schools.
By last week, we'd guess, Senate Republicans no longer saw a chance of peeling away even one Democratic vote. So they did the only thing they could: They walked.
In retrospect, the walkout occurred too early in the session for it to actually have much of a chance to affect the business tax — and Democrats, possibly sensing the Republican strategy, had no plans to wait until session's end to pass the measure.
But Republicans still had a bit of leverage, and in negotiations last weekend, got Democrats to kill a couple of high-profile bills. One of those bills would have sharply tightened Oregon's vaccine mandates; we thought it somewhat ironic that the same week this bill died, authorities in Washington state announced four new cases of measles, although these cases reportedly are not related to the outbreak in Vancouver that sickened more than 70 people, including some in Oregon. We expect to keep seeing stories like this in the months to come, although we also expect these vaccine proposals to resurface in the 2020 legislative session.
The other bill that Democrats agreed to sacrifice was an omnibus measure that contained a number of gun-control provisions. For people who support Second Amendment rights, the death of this bill, Senate Bill 978, is worth cheering.
Senate Bill 978 turned out to be a parking garage for a variety of gun-control measures. The bill included provisions that would have make gun owners liable for harm caused by someone who obtained a gun that wasn't locked up. Another provision would have allowed Oregon gun dealers to refuse to sell weapons to people under 21.
Here's the critical hurdle that we believe gun-control proposals of any kind need to clear: Do they do anything to make Oregon residents safer? Most of the proposals in Senate Bill 978 failed to clear that hurdle and, at the same time, ran the risk of turning law-abiding gun owners in Oregon into potential criminals.
Another gun-control bill, House Bill 2013, does clear that hurdle — and it's telling to note that this bill survived the weekend horse trading and remains alive. The bill would require people convicted of domestic violence or stalking crimes to turn over their weapons. Those people already are barred from possessing firearms, but the bill would clarify that they have to turn weapons over to a law-enforcement agency.
Interestingly, neither Senate Bill 978 nor the vaccine bill would have required a three-fifths supermajority to pass, so Democratic leaders must have thought support for both measures even in their own caucuses was soft.
It's also telling that Democrats didn't bargain away House Bill 2020, the carbon cap-and-trade measure, although they allowed that Republican Sen. Cliff Bentz would have more of a say on the measure. That suggests Democrats think they have the votes to pass the measure, but our sense is this bill might be running out of time. (mm)
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