Comity a casualty as sine die draws near
Sine die is less than a month away, and there's a charge in the atmosphere in the Oregon State Capitol.
It's been a productive legislative session for Democrats, who have powered rent control, a new tax on businesses to fund education, and cost-saving public pension cuts through to Gov. Kate Brown's desk and appear set to advance a cap-and-trade package and campaign finance reform before the final gavel falls.
Republicans complain that they've been left out, and with each new Democratic bill that passes, their frustration seems to mount.
Signs that the comity in the Senate was breaking down were evident Monday, when Senate President Peter Courtney allowed Republicans to read aloud a letter that criticized Sen. James Manning Jr., D-Eugene, by name, only to end up in an argument with a fellow Democrat, Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, over the appropriateness of letting senators malign a colleague by name on the floor by quoting from written material.
On Wednesday, things devolved further. Courtney cut Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. off in the middle of a floor speech after Baertschiger referred to homelessness and street violence in Portland, calling it "carnage in their streets."
"Could you be a little careful how you're phrasing some of these things?" Courtney asked. "Just be a little careful about some of the examples and things."
Baertschiger was not happy. After the floor session concluded, his office put out a statement slamming Courtney, claiming he "limited the free speech" of Republican senators during the debate.
The next morning, OPB reported, Baertschiger suggested Senate Republicans may not continue waiving a rule that requires bills to be read in full. If they force bills to be read before each vote, that could slow down the pace of voting in the Senate considerably — as it did for a month in the House, where Republicans adopted the tactic to protest the business tax. Baertschiger has been moving to waive the rule as a courtesy whenever the Senate meets.
By the time Republicans agreed to end the slowdown in the House last week, Speaker Tina Kotek was routinely scheduling floor sessions three times per day and had started scheduling Saturday votes as well. Courtney also has the authority to order more floor sessions between now and the end of the month, when the Legislature will adjourn.