By Representative David Gomberg, House District 10
Two weeks ago, I wrote you with an update on the bills and budgets being considered for the 2020 legislative session. Sadly, not one of them will be adopted.
For two weeks, a minority of members in both the House and the Senate left the building to boycott the process. In their absence, we lacked a quorum to transact any business*. Awkwardly, those absent members continued to be paid and even receive a daily per diem to cover costs of being in Salem. With one side presenting ultimatums and the other unwilling to repeatedly compromise, the session ended. For those of us who strive to work toward the center, it was particularly difficult.
At issue was the “Cap and Trade” proposal to address climate change in Oregon. But the walk-out has now been used four times in the past year to protest school funding, vaccination measures, firearm storage, climate, and in one case because members did not want to work through a scheduled evening floor session. Issues aside, we are seeing a complete breakdown in our democratic institutions. One journalist called it a national embarrassment.
Certainly I have heard from some constituents who support the walk-out. My response is that I swore an oath to uphold the Oregon Constitution. That oath and the House Rules require me to attend. Even in these cynical times, a person’s word should mean something. And when the legislature is unable to act, more power and authority shifts to the Governor and executive branch.
If I disagree with a proposal that is moving forward, I either vote no, or to try and improve the bill. My efforts have always been to listen to all sides, seek compromise, and move toward the center. In past newsletters, you have heard me detail carbon amendments I have proposed or supported. They include specific references to the coast for disbursement of climate investments; tax reductions in communities where fuel costs are increased by the need to drive further for work, school, or shopping; exemptions for fuel used in our fishing fleets; offsets to energy costs for heating or agricultural production; and carve-outs for mills using best available technology. Some will disagree with this measure. I hope most will agree I made it better.
I have heard the argument that we should refer Cap and Trade to the voters.
I believe I was elected to make hard decisions. That includes large, complex, and controversial votes. But I also believe that when people disagree with my decisions, they have the right to circulate petitions and gather signatures to refer a measure for a statewide vote. For that reason, I parted with my party leaders and supported removing the Emergency Clause from the Cap and Trade proposal in order to allow more time for signature gathering. Unfortunately, that never happened.
The carbon bill being considered was not an extreme proposal as some advocacy groups suggest. One recent editorial says “. . . the Senate bill before lawmakers this year reflects thoughtful consideration of the needs of rural Oregonians… (It) exempts much of rural Oregon from regulations that would increase gas prices. It also devotes a good portion of the revenue raised to clean-energy investments – many of which will directly help rural communities… And the bill includes elements sought by Republican legislators and the Timber Unity group.” Click here to read the entire article.
In the future, citizens need to change our Constitution’s quorum requirement for floor votes. There are also suggestions to disallow legislators with unexcused absences from running in the next election, dock their pay, or fine them. Regular people don’t get paid when they don’t go to work, and politicians shouldn’t get paid for skipping work either.
In the end, Cap and Trade was more important to both sides than anything else. A number of bi-partisan proposals that were worked on for months have languished. We failed to move bills and budget requests to fund:
-$60 million in emergency shelter facilities for the homeless
-$70 million for affordable housing
-Corrections to the corporate activity tax
-Child abuse prevention and treatment
-Support for foster care and unaccompanied homeless youth
-Family treatment courts to provide addiction treatment and services for families at risk of losing their children
-Streamlined adoption processes for the 700 kids waiting to be adopted
-Dental care and education for school age children
-Statewide emergency preparedness
-Flood recovery in Pendleton
-A historic forest management agreement by timber and environmental organizations
-Support for small schools and higher education
-And many more bills that communities across the state are counting on.
The mood in the Capitol is fractured and confrontational. Last Monday, before the walk-out, I left committee to find over 100 people lining the hallway. As we walked this gauntlet, groups on one side would cheer and the other side curse, depending on how each of us had voted. Later in the day, a Republican colleague took me aside to warn me. Someone had been in their office and threatened violence if he found me. The state police had been alerted.
Sadly, the discord that divides our nation’s Capitol has now soiled Salem as well. Trust has evaporated. We can and must treat each other with courtesy and respect even when we disagree. Especially when we disagree.
With so much at stake, we will likely be called back in special session to complete essential business. That will cost more time and more money. On Monday, I return to Salem for the Emergency Board which will fund Coronavirus response and flooding in Umatilla County. As for carbon, I expect it will come back to the legislature yet again or have signatures collected to present a more restrictive measure to the voters.
I believe in Oregon and the Oregon Way. I remain hopeful for our future. But it has been a difficult five weeks in Salem.
* While 46 states require a simple majority to vote on bills on the House and Senate floor, Oregon requires a “super-super” (2/3) majority. Thus, a minority can walk out over any bill they oppose. Of the 4 states that require a 2/3 majority, we are the only state with a limited number of days per session, so the minority party can run out the clock – which means all bills die.
address: 900 Court St NE, H-471, Salem, OR, 97301