Senate Republican and Democratic leaders are continuing to negotiate terms for the GOP-led walkout to end. (Photo by Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Oregon senators are engaged in intense negotiations to try to end the Republican-led walkout that started on May 3 and has prevented the Senate from voting on bills. 

In separate interviews with the Capital Chronicle, Democratic and Republican Senate leaders said they remain hopeful that the upper chamber can return to work. The impasse has prevented passage bills on several hundred bills, including approval of funds for housing and homelessness, education, mental health and addiction services, child care, drought, combating wildfires and budgets.

However, Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton, said Democratic leaders recently learned what Republicans want to return to Senate floor sessions. Lieber declined to say what that is, but said the clarity is helpful as they seek a solution.

“We have been trying to talk to them over and over and getting them to set the goalposts for what it will be to bring them back in, and we have not been able to get those goalposts set until quite recently,” Lieber said.

Separately, Deputy Minority Leader Daniel Bonham said he’s hopeful that the two sides could agree on an amendment to House Bill 2002, an abortion and transgender care proposal that Republicans have strongly opposed. 

“I think there’s room for negotiation with a possible amendment that could get enough of us back, but we’re not going to kill that bill,” said Bonham, R-The Dalles. “I don’t think Democrats are willing to do that, but I think they might be willing to amend it.”

It’s unclear what a potential amendment would look like. However, Republicans are concerned that the bill would allow minors to have an abortion without parental notification, regardless of age. They have said they favor a judicial bypass mechanism that would let a judge make the decision in cases involving parental abuse of a child.

As for changes to House Bill 2002, Lieber declined to say whether Democrats were open to that. “What I will tell you is that we are open to ideas that can get us back on track,” Lieber said. “What my goal is in all of this is to continue to have hope that we can find a path and talking about particulars of a negotiation does not help in that goal.”

House Bill 2002 is just one sticking point. Republicans have other bills that they oppose, such as House Bill 2005, which would change the minimum age to purchase most firearms from 18 to 21 years and allow local agencies to ban firearms on government-owned property.

Another GOP-opposed proposal is Senate Bill 348, which would establish a framework for Measure 114, a voter-approved proposal that requires permits and safety training to purchase firearms. 

But those bills and others remain as they have been, and the session is just a little more than two weeks from its June 25 deadline to adjourn. With each passing day, there is less time to debate, vote and process bills and paperwork.

Lieber said the Republican demands have changed in the past, adding that the Republicans’ earlier demand to kill House Bill 2002 is a “complete nonstarter” in negotiations.

“What is happening here is that they are starting to realize the consequences of this walkout for all Oregonians and they are finally setting realistic expectations for themselves regarding what we could do to perhaps solve this impasse,” Lieber said.

Since the walkout started, Republican senators have voiced varying concerns.  Initially, they focused on bill summaries not complying with a state law that requires them to be written at an eighth-grade reading level. They later identified several bills they wanted Democrats to set aside, including House bills 2002 and 2005.

Bonham said Republicans have a “bunch of other bills” that they would like to change but they are starting with the most important ones. 

“It feels like there’s been enough willingness to try and find compromise that there can be a conversation,” Bonham said. “But even then, I’m optimistic, but I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report.