Your Food, Your Legislature: Republican Walkout Terminates Session, Leaves State in Jeopardy

In a stunning move, Republicans in the Oregon legislature and their corporate sponsors have completed a takeover of the legislative process that they couldn't achieve at the ballot box.

The so-called "interim session" of the Legislature, which occurs in even-numbered years, is constitutionally limited to 35 days and was was originally established to deal with budgetary issues that might come up between the main legislative sessions held in odd-numbered years.

"Lawmakers set out with a hefty policy agenda for the 35-day session: bills to prepare the state for an earthquake, changes to the way wildfires are fought, efforts to address the state’s housing crisis and an ambitious climate change policy," according to an article from OPB. "None of that happened."

House Speaker Tina Kotek (l) and Senate President Peter Courtney (r).

Announcing the premature end to the session, House Speaker Tina Kotek had even harsher words for the 21 Republican legislators, whom she likened to a basketball team walking off the court for most of the second half, then asking to return in the final minute of the game on the condition that they get to dictate the final score.

Admonishing her absent colleagues, Kotek said that in team sports "you play hard, and you play by the rules. What [the Republicans] have done is cheat. They have not played by the rules. They took their ball and went home. They have broken their oath of office by not showing up to vote."

With hundreds of bills left in limbo and the state's budget up in the air, Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney said that they had no choice but to end the session rather than continue to be held hostage by a small minority of legislators. With plans to convene a meeting of the Legislative Emergency Board to approve an emergency spending package for cornonavirus response and flood relief for Umatilla County, the leaders were also requesting that the governor convene a special session later this spring to finish the work interrupted by the Republicans' walkout. Kotek also announced Governor Kate Brown would take executive action to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions.

HB 4109 would ban the aerial application of chlorpyrifos.

Included in the bills that were not voted on because the Republicans walked out on the job they were elected to do—as well as defying a subpoena from the leadership to appear—was HB 4109 banning the aerial spraying of the deadly pesticide chlorpyrifos which had been passed in the House and was awaiting approval in the Senate. Its fate is unknown at the current moment.

One bright side is that the bill to amend some of the regulations governing factory farming in Oregon (SB 1513) that consumer and environmental advocates termed inadequate to deal with the dangers industrial agriculture present to our communities and our air, water and health, may not go forward. Advocates said its failure might present an opportunity to make real change in the way these extractive industrial facilities are regulated.

Cow standing in manure slurry at Threemile Canyon Farm.

Addressing the walkout and its effect on these pending pieces of legislation, Amy van Saun, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety, said, “It is shameful that Oregon Republicans would prevent the functioning of our state democracy and hold up crucial legislation to protect our people and environment, including from dangerous and unnecessary pesticides like chlorpyrifos. We can only hope that the Governor’s office takes bold action to address the dangers of industrial ag in Oregon, including to put a moratorium on air, water, and climate polluting mega-dairies, like the new Easterday operation poised to take over the ill-fated Lost Valley site.”

Summing up this extraordinary, and potentially devastating, turn of events for the state, Les Zaitz, publisher of the Salem Reporter and the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, wrote that the action left "Republican legislators somewhere out of state and out of leverage, piles of legislation dead, and an uncertain political future for Oregon."

Photo of Kotek and Courtney from KOIN news.