2023 Legislative Session concludes after dramatic session
The 2023 Oregon legislative session proved to be one of the most chaotic and dramatics sessions in recent memory.
The full 160-day session began with significant political changes in the Capitol. For the first time in several years, Democratic dominance in the legislature was tempered slightly as Republicans gained just enough seats in the 2022 elections to erase Democratic “supermajorities” in both the House and Senate.
Governor Kotek signaled very early in session that 2023 was going to be a pragmatic session of fixing problems within available resources. Her Governor’s Recommended Budget was a very pragmatic guidepost that proposed to address her key priorities without raising additional tax revenue.
The state budget appeared to have just enough available money to accommodate the Governor’s priorities but little else, as there was just enough money in state coffers – about $31 billion – to keep state government funded at current levels.
Early on, bipartisanship reigned. Legislative leaders secured big bipartisan wins, including a package to begin addressing acute homelessness issues (HB 2001), as well as an incentive package to leverage Federal funds to encourage semiconductor manufacturing in Oregon (SB 4). Both of these bills passed easily with strong bipartisan support.
But the cordial environment in the capitol took a sharp turn at the halfway point of the session when legislative Democrats introduced a number of bills focusing on social issues, particularly abortion, gender-affirming care and gun control. This combined with frustration over vague ‘placeholder’ bills suddenly transforming into major policy statements with little notice or process, floor sessions became increasingly contentious as hostilities grew.
Republicans in both the House and Senate began employing delay tactics in an effort to prevent or delay votes, while there were rumors beginning to surface in late April that Republicans would potentially boycott the session for a few days or even longer.
On May 3rd, the 2023 session came to a crashing halt when the Senate Republican caucus followed through on its threat to boycott the session. This began the longest walkout in Oregon’s history. The absence of those Senators left the Senate unable to achieve a quorum to conduct business.
With quorum denied, all activity on the Senate floor came to a standstill for over 40 days. Weeks of negotiations appeared fruitless. Legislation and budgets could not pass with the Senate unable to conduct business.
But finally, after a six-week standoff, Senate Republicans reached an agreement with the majority Democrats to return June 15th and finish the 2023 session. The return was a result of Democratic leadership agreeing to significantly scale back the high-profile bills that had triggered that walkout. Republicans dropped their demand that remaining bills be ‘substantially bipartisan.’ With quorum now present, the 10-day sprint to the finish line began, and the hundreds of bills backlogged on the Senate floor were fast-tracked to meet the Constitutionally-required June 25th sine die.