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News / Northwest

Drug treatment, wildfire response and new jobs: Oregon Democrats cite bills at risk amid GOP walkout

The Columbian
Published: June 6, 2023, 6:34pm

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon Democratic lawmakers stood on the steps of the state Capitol Tuesday and implored Republicans, who have been boycotting the Senate, to return and vote on a number of bipartisan bills that are at risk of dying because of a political standoff that has now lasted a month.

Several statehouses around the nation, including Montana and Tennessee, have been ideological battlegrounds this year. Republicans in the Oregon statehouse conducted walkouts in 2019, 2020 and 2021 to deny enough members for voting on measures. But this one is the most serious yet, threatening hundreds of bills and the approval of state budgets for the next two years.

Democrats who held a news conference Tuesday cited a range of bills about urgent issues facing Oregon, including ones aimed at reducing drug overdoses, mitigating wildfire risks and shoring up seismically vulnerable dams, that are in limbo because of the ideological rift.

Yet neither side is budging on a bill on protections for abortion and transgender care, with Democrats saying it isn’t negotiable and minority Republicans insisting it die or be changed. Republicans reject a provision that would allow doctors to provide abortions regardless of age, with doctors not required to notify parents when doing so could endanger the child, such as in cases of incest.

“If Democrat leaders truly prioritized bipartisan budgets and policy proposals Oregonians desperately need, they would work to resolve this impasse in a bipartisan fashion,” Senate Republican Leader Sen. Tim Knopp said. “Instead, Democrat leadership is clinging to an unlawful, extreme agenda.”

The standoff is down to a matter of which side blinks first. If there is no compromise well before the session is constitutionally required to end by June 25, the hundreds of bills that haven’t passed both the House and Senate will die.

Sen. Jeff Golden, a Democrat who represents Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley, said among them are bills to improve response and protections from wildfires like ones that devastated parts of the state in 2020.

“Like the other bills you’ve been hearing about, these are teetering on the edge. We are looking at serious damage — as in life-and-death kind of damage — if we abandon these bills now,” Golden told reporters and supporters under a hot sun, a harbinger of the coming dry season in this drought-stricken state.

Rep. Travis Nelson, a Democrat who is a registered nurse, said also among measures frozen by the Republicans’ longest walkout in state history is a bipartisan opioid harm-reduction package that includes making overdose medication like Naloxone available in restaurants, grocery stores, police departments and schools.

“This is going to save lives and give people a chance to recover, and we must pass this bill,” said Nelson, who wore blue nursing scrubs at the news conference and rally.

Knopp was unmoved by the Democrats’ warnings.

“Well, there are always lives at stake as it relates to policy that is being debated here in the state Capitol,” Knopp told reporters after the rally. “However, unfortunately, their ire is misplaced, and the Senate Democrats could have ended this weeks ago.”