© 2023 KRCU Public Radio
90.9 Cape Girardeau | 88.9-HD Ste. Genevieve | 88.7 Poplar Bluff
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Oregon Republicans' walkouts trigger a new state law on reelection

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today, Republican state lawmakers in Oregon walked off the job for the 10th workday in a row. They're doing it to block a Democrat-led bill that would in part protect and expand access to reproductive and gender affirming health care. Oregon is one of the few states that requires a two-thirds quorum to conduct legislative business, and several Republicans have now hit their limit for absences, triggering a new state law that would bar them from running for reelection. Oregon Public Broadcasting's politics reporter Dirk VanderHart is following the story. Hi, Dirk.

DIRK VANDERHART, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: First, tell us about the health care bill that triggered this walkout. What makes it so contentious?

VANDERHART: Yeah, I mean, this is a pretty wide-ranging bill, and actually many pieces are relatively noncontroversial. But the GOP says two specific pieces are too extreme. One part would make clear that children of any age don't have to obtain parental permissions to receive an abortion in Oregon. That's something Republicans have taken strenuous exception to. Another piece creates new protections for people who identify as a different gender than they were assigned at birth. That includes expanding what kinds of procedures those folks get that can be covered by insurance. Under the bill, insurance would have to pay for things like facial feminization surgery, hair electrolysis and some other things.

SHAPIRO: And with today's walkout, some Republicans have reached their limit on unexcused absences. So what are the consequences for that?

VANDERHART: So Oregon has actually seen a number of these walkouts in recent years. They've become far more normal since 2019 when Democrats expanded their majorities. And to head that off, Democratic groups and labor unions pushed a ballot measure last year that says any legislation - legislator with 10 or more unexcused absences is unable to run for reelection, as you said, when their current term is up. Today, three state senators showed the new law was perhaps not the deterrent Democrats had hoped. They've basically said they are willing to end their political careers to oppose this bill.

SHAPIRO: Lawmakers in a handful of states have used this walkout tactic. It's a tool for lawmakers in the minority. In this case, is it backfiring?

VANDERHART: You know, it might be, though we should note that Republicans have begun a new political action committee specifically to raise money off the walkout. So they think it's a political winner there in that sense. And generally, I think just a lot of confusion exists here in Salem. This is brand new. There are a lot of disagreements about how this process will work or even if it's legal. Those are almost certain to be tested in the months to come. But what is definitely clear is that this law is not some magic fix to the ongoing dynamic in Oregon, where Republicans are continuously walking away to block bills they oppose. And we should note this has been bipartisan over the years. Democrats walked out in 2001 when they were in the minority to block new political maps drawn by Republicans.

SHAPIRO: And even if they are barred from reelection, can they just keep walking out until the next election? I mean, where does this go from here?

VANDERHART: That is the question on everyone's mind. You know, as you said, we saw three Republicans hit the 10-absence mark today. Tomorrow, at least one more senator hits that milestone, and more and more are going to join them if this standoff continues. So the burning question is, if enough Republicans hit 10 absences and therefore can't run for reelection, whether we might be at this point of no return where it becomes impossible to get the GOP back to Salem. We don't know the answer to that. What I can say is that as of now, talks between the parties seem to have broken down.

SHAPIRO: And is this only about the health care law or is other legislation in the state of Oregon also falling victim to these walkouts?

VANDERHART: Yeah, you know, any senator you talk to - Republican senator - will give a different reason for why they're walking out. There's gun legislation. There's bills on rent control. And what you're hinting at is correct. There are many, many bills, including a state budget that must be passed, that are held up in all this. This legislative session has something like 40 days left. And so we are really waiting to see if those 40 days are productive or if this thing just sort of falls apart right now.

SHAPIRO: That is Oregon Public Broadcasting's Dirk VanderHart in Salem. Thanks for your reporting.

VANDERHART: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Dirk VanderHart
Dirk VanderHart covers Oregon politics and government for OPB. Before barging onto the radio in 2018, he spent more than a decade as a newspaper reporter—much of that time reporting on city government for the Portland Mercury. He’s also had stints covering chicanery in Southwest Missouri, the wilds of Ohio in Ohio, and all things Texas on Capitol Hill.
Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.