Over the past few years, Republicans in the Oregon Legislature have repeatedly left Salem to prevent Democrats from passing laws they oppose. This November voters will decide whether to make legislative walkouts much harder.
Here are the basics on Ballot Measure 113:
Why have Republicans resorted to walking out?
The party in the minority in Salem has little leverage to block the party in the majority from pushing through its agenda.
But the Oregon Constitution requires each legislative chamber to have a quorum of members — 20 in the Senate, 40 in the House — present to conduct its business. That’s a two-thirds majority; most states only require a simple majority of members present for lawmakers to act.
Republicans have used the walkout to attempt to block Democratic legislative action — including a new tax on businesses to help fund education and rules that would have capped carbon emissions in Oregon — repeatedly in the past three years.
It’s not just a Republican tool, however. Democrats have used walkouts to stop legislative action before, most recently in 2001 to block new Republican-drawn political maps.
What Measure 113 would change
If approved, Measure 113 would amend the state constitution so that a lawmaker with 10 or more unexcused absences in a legislative session would be ineligible to run for a legislative seat — including their current seat or one in the other chamber — in the next election.
So the minority party could still stage a walkout to block votes, but they would face major political consequences.
This change would add to the power held by the House speaker and Senate president; they’re the ones who decide if a lawmaker’s absence is excused.
The arguments for and against
Labor unions, which tend to support Democratic candidates in Oregon elections, pushed to put this measure on before voters. Advocates of the change say walkouts circumvent the will of voters that Oregonians put one party in the majority knowing they will use that power to push through a certain policy agenda.
Opponents of the measure say that in a state in which more progressive urban voters tend to hold a demographic advantage, taking away tools for the minority party prevents voters in more rural and conservative parts of the state to be heard in Salem. They also note that Democrats may some day rue pushing for this change.
There is no organized opposition to Ballot Measure 113.