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Capital Chatter: Will the GOP walkout?

All options remain on the table for Senate Republicans as the 2020 legislative session approaches.

The plot thickened this week in the Oregon Capitol.

Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, confirmed what has been on everyone's minds: All options remain on the table for Senate Republicans as the 2020 legislative session approaches. That includes walking out to deny Democrats a quorum for passing the carbon cap and trade bill.

The 2020 Legislature is scheduled to convene Feb. 3.

Baertschiger said the new version of the climate action bill, the Oregon Greenhouse Gas Initiative, is no better than last year's HB 2020 despite a number of alterations.

If the bill gets to the Senate floor this year, Democrats appear to have the 16th vote needed to pass it. One of last year's holdouts, Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, has endorsed the revised version, which includes changes he advocated.

On the other side of the Capitol, a quorum-denying mass walkout by House Republicans seems unlikely. Their caucus lacks such unanimity, although their new leader, Canby Rep. Christine Drazan, could be more rigid in confronting the Democratic supermajority than her predecessor, Carl Wilson of Grants Pass.

Lobbyists made the rounds during this week's Legislative Days, keeping relationships in good repair, attending legislative committee meetings and discerning what to tell their clients about the upcoming session. The dynamics remain so uncertain that some lobbyists advised clients to avoid pursuing any issue that had more than token opposition, so as to avoid contributing to legislative blowups.

The question hanging over the Capitol remained, "Will there be a session?"

Such a question seemed inconceivable 10 years ago when two-thirds of voters amended the Oregon Constitution to authorize annual sessions. That ballot measure created 35-day sessions in even-numbered years and restricted sessions in odd-numbered years to 135 days.

Assuming all Democrats show up, each chamber will need at least two Republicans in attendance in order to have the two-thirds participation required to have a floor session and vote on bills.

A Senate Republican boycott could block the entire session. That has Capitol insiders calculating whether it actually might happen or whether a short-term walkout could lead to tactical deals that enabled budget-adjustment legislation and certain non-controversial bills to pass while sidelining the current carbon bill.

With Senate Republicans and Democrats appearing ready to call each other's bluff, the most unlikely of unlikely scenarios is that the two sides will reach an agreement on the carbon bill. Among other things, Republicans want it sent to voters – assuming Oregonians would defeat it – and Democrats do not.

Republicans in both chambers want more emphasis on encouraging people – especially in the Portland metro area, the state's Democratic stronghold – to convert to electric vehicles. I hear that one or more proposals could gain support from middle-of-the-road (no pun intended) Democrats.

Some Democrats also will side with Republicans who believe voters should be asked whether to repeal annual legislative sessions. The even-year short sessions were promoted as primarily being for items requiring immediate fixes, such as budget adjustments, especially in human services programs, or flaws discovered with previous legislation.

Lawmakers disagree whether such major items as the climate change bill are legitimate for the short session. Democrats, and their allies, already decided to wait until 2021 to resurrect some contentious bills from the 2019 session, such as ones disallowing religious exemptions for childhood vaccine requirements and ending the mortgage interest tax deduction on second homes.

As if this weren't enough uncertainty to invigorate Capitol scuttlebutt, Senate President Peter Courtney's health became the newest hop topic. Courtney, a legislative workaholic, missed this week's Legislative Days because he was hospitalized at Oregon Health & Science University with severe hip pain.

The Salem Democrat also will miss the Jan. 17 legislative preview arranged by The Associated Press, in which legislative leaders meet with Oregon journalists. Courtney has had several health concerns over the years, including missing time with eye issues during last year's session.

His office said Courtney expects to be back at the Capitol for the February. Still, his hospitalization has people wondering what shape he will be in to guide the Senate through this tumultuous time. Meanwhile, some of the most-liberal Democrats can't wait to replace the moderate Courtney with one of their own as Senate leader.

The hip pain was so severe that the first challenge was how to transport Courtney back to Oregon from Arizona.

Courtney, 76, apparently injured his hip while spinning on an exercise bicycle at a conference there. He has been a devoted participant in spinning classes at the Salem YMCA, which is kitty-corner from the Capitol grounds and is where he lived, pulling his murphy bed out of the wall each night, when he first moved to Oregon from the East Coast. The Salem Y has been closed since last year, with the building being demolished so a new Y facility can be built on the same site.

Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com, Facebook.com/Hughesisms, YouTube.com/DickHughes or Twitter.com/DickHughes.