Dec 15, 2023 - News

Year in reflection: The state Senate walkout

Photo illustration of the Oregon State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The longest legislative walkout in Oregon history — six weeks — happened this year, despite voters overwhelmingly approving a 2022 measure aimed at curbing unexcused absences among lawmakers by prohibiting them from serving another term.

  • Measure 113 added language to the Oregon constitution stating that no lawmaker with more than 10 unexcused absences in a single legislative session can run for reelection.

Catch up fast: Republican state senators tested that law back in May when over a dozen walked off the floor, denying Democrats a quorum to resume business and vote on bills on gender-affirming care, abortion and gun control.

  • GOP senators are challenging Measure 113 in the state's Supreme Court this week — opening remarks began Thursday.
  • They believe there could be a loophole in the measure's language that could allow them to serve another term before being barred.

Separately, a federal judge sided with voters on Wednesday, finding the law constitutional.

What's happening: We asked Melissa Unger, the executive director of SEIU 503 Local — one of several public employee unions that championed Measure 113 — to reflect on how the law has worked this year, and what she expects from legal challenges against it.

  • This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

🤔 Did you expect Measure 113 to play out in the Legislature the way it did this year?

  • "We expected that hearing overwhelmingly from voters that they expected folks to show up, even when they disagreed, to try to figure out how to solve some of Oregon's challenges would have an impact. And I don't think it did."
  • "We didn't necessarily expect that it would be ignored."
  • "We know that this is a tactic Republicans in Oregon have chosen to use to try to legislate through not being there and prevent work from getting done."

⚖️ What are you anticipating from this legal challenge?

  • "We believe that voters passed Measure 113 and that it will be upheld."
  • "Walking out is not free speech, people can't walk out on their job and expect to be able to keep it."

➡️ What's next?

  • "I think when ballot measures pass, or when voters send messages, people should listen, even if they don't agree."
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