What the heck is going on in Salem?

Since the beginning of May, Republican Senators have chosen to deny quorum for Senate Floor votes by boycotting floor sessions. At the Oregon Legislature we need 2/3 of the members of a Chamber (House or Senate) to be present in order to have a quorum, or enough members present to have a vote.

If there are not enough members present for the floor session, nothing can be voted on and bills cannot advance.

This holds the legislature hostage and has ground the session to a halt. The Senators who are boycotting are doing so because of a bill related to gender affirming care and reproductive health for minors. Democratic Senators have refused to budge on this bill and are not open to making changes. Instead of coming back to the chamber face a vote they know they will lose (although 2/3 of the representatives are required to be present for a vote to occur, only a simple majority is required for passage), these legislators have decided to prevent any business at all from getting done at the Capitol.

Last year, Oregonians spoke loud and clear that this kind of obstructionism is unacceptable when they passed a ballot measure that would bar any lawmaker with more than 10 unexcused absences will not be eligible to run for re-election. Although there are many people speculating that the will of the Oregon people will be overturned in court and these legislators will be allowed to run again, that is yet to be seen. As of now, because the damage is already done there is no incentive for these lawmakers to return to the Senate Floor.

Each legislative session has a predetermined date when it has to legally end, commonly called the sine die (a latin term for “​​without any future date being designated”). The sine die for this session is June 25th. With the amount of bills still waiting for action, many policy bills that might have made a difference for Oregon are already too far down the list to move forward this session. If the boycotting Senators were to return right now, there would still be a chance to get agency budgets passed and the funding packages for new projects that have been carefully crafted and have bipartisan support.

What’s on the line for community food systems and farmers:

There are many policies on the chopping block because of this, but we want to highlight some of the real world consequences of these walkouts. We had the opportunity to use state funds to build a more drought resilient community food system and to improve meat processing options across the state to strengthen local production.  If the senators do not return to the floor, these funding packages will not be passed:

Oregon Community Food System Network – Drought Resilience Package

  • Food Hub Project: $1.5M for infrastructure to strengthen local food supply chains and aggregation
  • Small Farm Resilience: $2.65M for infrastructure for small farms to increase drought resilience

Oregon Farmers Market Association – Drought Resilience Package

  • Increased producer and community access: $2M general fund to improve farmers markets, make them more drought and weather tolerant and build resilience in these important outlets
  • SNAP acceptance assistance: $500k to help farmers markets process SNAP payments including training, equipment and software.

ODA Meat Processing Infrastructure Grant Fund – Rural Economic Development Package

  • New and expanding processing facilities: $10M for construction, equipment, etc. to expand meat processing plants in Oregon.

These items are in bipartisan funding packages that have been debated, agreed upon and are ready to go. All we would need to see this funding in our community is for the boycotting senators to return to work. This is a sad end to the session because many who worked tirelessly to create policy, many of you who poured your hearts, time, and energy into testimony and many more who would have benefitted from the programs we could have gotten passed will see no return because of the actions of a few.