Tuesday morning, Oregon’s Senate President Peter Courtney declared a controversial climate change bill to likely be dead. Courtney, a Democrat, said the landmark measure wasn’t just blocked due to a major walkout from Republican lawmakers. He added that the bill also lacked sufficient support from the Democrat majority caucus.
“What I’m about to say, I say of my own free will. No one has told me to say this,” Courtney said. “HB 2020 does not have the votes on the Senate floor. That will not change.”
What is HB 2020?
The cap-and-trade bill, which prompted a protest from all eleven Republican state senators, would significantly limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions by businesses. While supporters say the bill would help combat climate change and ultimately boost the economy by creating new jobs, opponents argue it would destroy jobs and small businesses, all while hiking up gas prices.
Conversely, Republican lawmakers say the bill would hurt the state’s depressed rural communities, many of which are dependent on logging and trucking for employment. Under the new legislation, critics say such severe regulations would pose a major risk to the survival of both industries, which are already on the decline.
Effects of Republican walkout
Due to the lawmakers’ disappearance, more than 100 bills have been stalled and are could potentially be dismissed. After Courtney’s announcement, he urged Republican lawmakers to return so they could continue working.
“This is a remarkable opportunity to finish our work,” Courtney said. “Please, senators, come to this floor.”
In the Senate gallery, young climate activists turned their backs in disapproval over Courtney’s comments. Hundreds of other environmentalists, who came to protest at the Capitol, echoed their frustration and disappointment over the HB 2020’s death.
Many other Oregon Democrats in favor of the policy shared this disgruntled sentiment. Oregon Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, characterized the Republicans’ boycott as “absolutely outrageous.”
“They are turning their backs on Oregonians and they are turning their backs on the democratic process,” Brown said.
Brown authorized Oregon State Police to find the senators in hiding so they could report back to the state Capitol of Salem and cast their votes, or face a $500 fine for every day they didn’t go to work.
Some Republicans, like state Senator Tim Knopp, retreated to other neighboring states in protest. Knopp told CBS he was “in Idaho at a cabin by the lake,” and that his absence was in defense of both democracy and his constituents.
Another Republican senator, Brian Boquist, went so far as to urge Democrats to “send bachelors and come heavily armed.”
“I’m not going to be a political prisoner in Oregon,” Boquist told KGW-TV. “It’s just that simple.”
What’s next for Oregon?
Several Republican lawmakers have expressed their skepticism over whether Courtney’s statement about the bill’s death was genuine, or simply a guise to have them return to work. With the state’s legislative session ending on June 30, Brown said she’ll call a special session if necessary.
At this rate, it seems Oregon’s fight against climate change—at least momentarily—has reached an unprecedented political standoff.