Oregon Senate President Says Cap-And-Trade Bill Is Dead Amid GOP Walkout

The Oregon State Capitol in Salem on March 18, 2017.
The Oregon State Capitol in Salem. CREDIT: Bradley W. Parks/OPB

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Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, says Oregon’s sweeping plan for addressing climate change this legislative session does not have the votes to pass.

But it’s not clear whether that will be enough to bring Senate Republicans back to work.

As a walkout by Republican Senators entered its sixth day and fifth Oregon Senate meeting Tuesday, Courtney announced that House Bill 2020 — the reason Republicans began skipping work last week — will not pass the Senate chamber.

“What I’m about to say, I say of my own free will. No one has told me to say this,” Courtney said. “House Bill 2020 does not have the votes on the Senate floor. That will not change.”

He went on to describe a wide array of policy and budget bills that have yet to be passed this session, including funding for the largest agencies in the state.

“This is a remarkable opportunity to finish our work,” Courtney said. “Please senators, come to this floor.”

The announcement, made before Democrats had even met for a caucus meeting Tuesday, appears to mark an end to the state’s plan to institute a cap-and-trade bill. And it comes after rumors have swirled around the statehouse that HB 2020 was likely to die — sacrificed to get Republicans back, because it didn’t have enough support, or both.

Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, said Tuesday morning he’d only just heard of Courtney’s announcement, and that he had questions about its meaning.

“The question becomes: What are they trying to do?” said Bentz, who is believed to be staying in Idaho while the boycott plays out. “Are they trying to make some sort of arrangement? If they are suggesting they don’t have the votes, what’s the procedure they’re going to use to kill the bill? Are they going to call it up for a vote?”

Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, echoed that confusion.

“We need clarification. What does that mean?” Knopp said. “Does it mean it’s dead until the 2020 session? Is the governor going to take it up in a special session?”

Meanwhile, senators who backed the bill appeared livid and declined to speak to reporters on the floor.

The cap and trade policy, a plan to cap carbon emissions and make polluters pay for their greenhouse gas production, is a Democratic priority in this year’s session. But whether there was enough support in the Senate, the more moderate of the legislature’s two Democrat-dominated chambers, has been a question since before Republicans walked out to prevent a vote.

Democrats hold 18 of the Senate’s 30 seats, and so could only afford to lose two votes to muster the 16 needed to pass the bill. Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, strongly opposed the policy and Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, had indicated he was a possible “no.” A number of other senators, including Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, have also raised concerns.

Environmental groups that backed HB 2020 immediately put out a statement disputing Courtney’s assertion.

“That is in direct contradiction to what 16 Senators told their constituents to their faces in recent days,” said Tera Hurst, executive director of the group Renew Oregon. “Instead of having the Senate vote on the floor and stand up to the public, the Senate President is allowing members to hide behind a contradictory statement.”

Hurst went on to call the situation “the biggest failure of public leadership in Oregon in recent memory.”

As Courtney spoke, HB 2020 supporters in the Senate gallery got out of their seats and turned their back to him.

“They have the votes. They just don’t have the courage,” Shilpa Joshi, a 31-year-old climate activist, said afterward. “They are jeopardizing our future.”

Courtney did not come right out and call HB 2020 dead Tuesday. But he traditionally avoids bringing bills that will not pass up for a vote.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit opb.org

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