State lines can make quite a difference, which is one reason a gaggle of Oregon Republican legislators are — as this was written — hiding out in Idaho.
They might re-cross the state line soon, but the reasons they’re in Idaho and why the timing matters reflect several differences between the states — procedural, more than philosophical.
Not to mention the substantive issue that got it started.
That issue is climate change, not — to say the least — a high priority at the Idaho Legislature. At the Oregon legislature, where Democrats control both houses, climate change is a bigger deal. Democrats there have been trying for some years to pass a strict “cap and trade” bill, with some tax increases included, with climate change in mind. For years those efforts fell short because in Oregon unlike Idaho — for many fiscal bills, a three-fifths majority vote is needed in each chamber to pass. Idaho has no such requirement. (Even if it did, the minority Democrats wouldn’t have enough votes to stop a measure by themselves.) For many years in Oregon, up until 2018, Republicans held more than two-fifths of each chamber, so they were able to (and often did) block a number of bills Democrats proposed.
In 2018 Oregon Democrats won supermajorities — meaning 60 percent of the seats — in both chambers, so they were freed to push harder. They did, finally teeing up a cap and trade bill for passage.
That was the prompt that caused Senate Republicans to walk out. Disagreement on a single bill — is the sole reason they gave for walking out and declining to participate at all in legislating.
Since the Senate Republicans occupy just 11 out of 30 seats, that would seem to give them little room to stop the bill. In Idaho, they wouldn’t have any room at all. In Idaho, a legislative chamber’s quorum — the number of members who must be present for business, any business, to be transacted, is any number over half. In Oregon, it takes two-thirds. With 11 senators out, everything ground to a halt.
The senators, you may have heard, have fled the state and some of them at least are said to be holed up at an undisclosed location, or more than one, in Idaho.
They probably are watching the calendar, too, because here’s another difference between the states: Oregon legislative sessions are required to end by a specific date. Idaho’s can in theory go on and on, and a few have gone past 100 days though most last about three months or so. Typically, Oregon has one session lasting about five months in odd-numbered years and one little more than a month long in even years. But unlike in Idaho, they do have deadlines. For this year, the state constitution requires adjournment by June 30.
At the time the Senate Republicans walked out, a bunch of key pieces of legislation, including the state budget, were still not yet passed. Most of these things were not especially controversial, but they do have to be done, and can’t be while a quorum is lacking. Maybe they’ll return because the Senate Democrats have agreed to take the cap and trade legislation off the table.
There are workarounds. A special session to get the budgets passed, for example, could be called, and there are other approaches too.
But at some point, Oregon legislators, especially those who didn’t take an Idaho vacation this year, might take a look across the state line at some of the procedural handcuffs that aren’t in place in Idaho, and start thinking about whether a few changes in their own procedures might be helpful. The idea that a third of one half of the legislature could hijack the overall work of the state probably isn’t something most Oregonians or Idahoans would see as a good idea.