SALEM — Senate Republicans appear to have won significant concessions as Democrats have agreed to abandon their central gun control proposal and drop a controversial bill modifying vaccination exemptions for school children, according to multiple sources.
In a deal intended to bring Republicans back to the Capitol, Democrats agreed to drop Senate Bill 978, a gun control bill widely opposed by Republicans, and House Bill 3063, which would end nonmedical exemptions from vaccination for schoolchildren, as Willamette Week first reported Monday morning.
Democratic Gov. Kate Brown was closely involved in the negotiations, sources told the Oregon Capital Bureau. Brown had previously supported the vaccination legislation. She met with the Senate Democrats to discuss the deal Monday morning.
The deal is supposed to end all further stalling tactics from Senate Republicans for the remainder of the session, according to Capitol sources.
Republicans staged their boycott in the Senate over House Bill 3427, landmark legislation that would tax businesses on their gross receipts in order to pay for school grants and other education programs. The bill cleared the House on a party-line vote on May 1 and was set for a Senate vote last Tuesday, May 7, until Republicans walked out. It will now be voted on Monday, when Republicans return to the building after a week away.
While Democrats hold 18 Senate seats — enough to raise taxes without Republican support — they lost control of the proceedings in the chamber last week, as Republicans took advantage of a rule that requires at least 20 senators to be present for any vote to be held.
Republicans presented an extensive list of demands to Democratic leaders, as The Oregonian/OregonLive.com first reported Wednesday. Those demands included pulling the plug on SB 978 and HB 3063, as well as sending HB 3427 back to its original committee to be amended.
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Republicans also sought to kill House Bill 2020, another major Democratic priority this session, which would create a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Sources say as part of the negotiations that Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, would be allowed to provide more input on the bill going forward. Bentz has led the Republican opposition to the bill, and is a co-vice chair of the committee designing the proposal.
Democratic leaders had publicly rejected the idea of backing off their legislative priorities for the year. Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said Democrats were elected on issues like gun control and carbon reduction and would not back down, telling Oregon Public Broadcasting that the caucus would abandon the gun bill “over (her) dead body.”
However, it appears Democrats were ultimately unwilling to engage in a protracted staring contest with Republicans with their education funding package on the line.
Burdick met with Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, on Saturday to broker a deal on guns, according to a source briefed on the meeting. The same day, Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, met with Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, to work out the deal on the vaccine bill. Heard vehemently opposed the bill.
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, announced at 11 a.m. Monday that a previously scheduled Senate floor session would be delayed until the afternoon. He declined to give an explanation; a spokeswoman for his office said discussions were ongoing.
Burdick and Senate Democrats, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Senate Republicans all declined to comment through spokespeople as well.
Baertschiger, who masterminded the walkout, did not immediately return a phone call requesting comment.