Senators prepare to meet in the Oregon Senate chamber on Saturday, as the Republican-led walkout entered its fourth day. (Photo by Ben Botkin/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Senate President Rob Wagner promised senators he would only grant excused absences for extraordinary circumstances when the GOP-led walkout persisted into its third day on Friday. 

On Saturday, as the Senate failed to reach its required two-thirds quorum for the fourth day, Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, is enforcing that — even for senators who want time off for religious observances. 

Ten senators had unexcused absences, all of them Republicans except for Sen. Brian Boquist, I-Dallas. That’s twice the number of unexcused absences for the first three days of the walkout. Two other senators, one Republican and one Democrat, had excused absences. 

Twenty senators are needed for a quorum. No Democratic senators had an unexcused absence.

Republican senators say they’re protesting an unconstitutional process of passing bills that fails to meet about an eighth-grade reading level. Democratic Senate leaders say the Republicans are trying to block a vote on House Bill 2002, a reproductive and gender-affirming health care measure.

Sen. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, had requested to be absent Saturday and the seven remaining Saturdays in the session. The reason: “duties scheduled as elder of my church,” Hayden wrote in the request, noting that he is scheduled to preach on Saturday.

On Friday, Wagner denied the request without any written explanation.

Hayden pushed back in an email to Wagner and Carol Suzuki, his deputy chief of staff, asking for an explanation and saying he wants to appeal the decision.

“The receipt did not indicate the rationale for being denied the fundamental right to attend and lead the worship services of my church as Saturday is my known day of faith,” Hayden wrote. “Notice was given by my staff twice earlier in April that it is my practice that, absent an emergent need to be away from my church duties on a Saturday, my faith is a sincerely held religious belief, and my attendance of worship and time off for such is a valid reason for an excused absence.”

Records show Hayden has been granted excused absences on other Saturdays throughout his legislative career – even in busy times. As a House member in the 2019 session, he had an excused absence on Saturday, June 29, 2019 – the day before that session ended.

Wagner declined to be interviewed about the issue on Saturday while his spokesman, Connor Radnovich, defended the process.

“This isn’t about religion,” Radnovich said. “This is about this being a walkout. If we were able to get the work done on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday, we would not have to be here on Saturday.”

Radnovich noted that the only two senators with excused absences – Sens. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, and Chris Gorsek, D-Gresham – received them for well-documented medical reasons.

Other Republican senators with unexcused absences were: Sens. Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, Bill Hansell of Athena, Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls, Art Robinson of Cave Junction, and for the first time, David Brock Smith of Port Orford, Kim Thatcher of Keizer and Suzanne Weber of Tillamook and Minority Leader Tim Knopp of Bend.

The Senate is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Sunday. The Legislature must adjourn by June 25.

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, Oregon Capital Chronicle

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.

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