Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek, a Democrat, took office in January with goals to boost new home construction, prioritize reading in schools and address the state's shortage of public defenders. File Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo
June 2 (UPI) -- Majority Democrats in the Oregon Senate will begin fining Republican members $325 for each day they continue to boycott the legislative session as part of a monthlong effort to block a bill that would keep abortion legal in the state.
Oregon Senate President Rob Wagner announced he'll issue the fines beginning Monday as Democrats attempted to force members back to business that has been delayed since the walkout began on May 3.
"It's been four weeks, nearly a month," Wagner said Thursday during a speech on the Senate floor. "People have been working, people have been waiting ... each of these bills deserve a vote on the Senate floor. The only reason they are not is that a minority of members are blocking the will of the people in opposition to legislation they don't like, starting with the protection of Oregonians' reproductive freedom in the wake of Roe vs. Wade."
The fines will go into effect at 10:30 a.m. Monday and will continue each day that a quorum is not seated, Wagner said.
Republicans and Independent Sen. Brian Boquist staged the walkout in response to HB 2002, which would protect doctors who provide abortions, and require insurance companies to cover gender-affirming care for those who identify as transgender or nonbinary.
The entire legislative session, and consequently the state's next two-year budget, hung in the balance as the body was scheduled to adjourn in three weeks, while Republicans stood firm due to a provision in the bill that would allow minors under 15 to get an abortion without parental consent.
Senate Republican leader Tim Knopp, who is leading the effort to deny the 20-member vote quorum, scoffed at the fine and vowed not to pay it.
In a statement, he accused Wagner of "intimidation and retaliation" after the ranking Democrat vowed to send a bill to any senator missing from Monday's session, although it was unclear how the majority party planned to enforce the decision.
"If this bill doesn't pass, abortion is still legal in Oregon for all nine months for any reason, literally nothing changes," Knopp said. "So the expansion [of abortion access] is the elimination of parental rights, that is the expansion of this bill."
Democrats tried a similar strategy when a group of Republicans staged a walkout in 2019 over a climate change bill, with then-Senate President Peter Courtney threatening to fine them $500 per day for not showing up. The plan was ultimately scrapped as various legal hurdles became apparent.
The latest political turbulence in Oregon comes as Republican efforts to restrict LGBTQ access to healthcare, public spaces and sports participation are being considered in GOP-led legislatures across the country.
Oregon Republicans have taken aim at the agenda of Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek, who took office in January with goals to boost new home construction, prioritize reading in schools and address the state's shortage of public defenders.