Oregon Capitol

The Oregon Capitol in Salem.

SALEM — A day after their counterparts in the Senate vacated the Capitol, Republican representatives brought the House to a halt Tuesday, skipping a daily session in protest of a controversial climate bill.

Their absence blocked the House from taking votes. If all Democrats are present, the House still needs at least two Republicans to act on bills.

A spokeswoman for the House Republicans, Tayleranne Gillespie, said she didn’t know how long their boycott would last and that she didn’t know where any of them were.

In the House, one Republican did show up Tuesday morning: Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, a self-described moderate.

House Republicans’ absence could further jam up the already-uncertain session, which is facing a March 8 deadline.

On Monday, 11 of the 12 Senate Republicans left the Capitol to stop that chamber from acting on the climate change legislation, Senate Bill 1530, and repeated their no-show Tuesday. One Republican, Tim Knopp of Bend, has attended the Monday and Tuesday floor sessions.

Bills that lawmakers are considering — everything from flood relief money for the Umatilla Basin to money for more homeless shelters — could be delayed or scrapped entirely.

Republicans are pushing to refer the legislation to voters. The proposal aims to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions through a mechanism known as cap and trade. It would impose new regulations that would make carbon-intensive energy sources more expensive.

“Oregon House Republicans are taking a stand, with working families, in opposing cap and trade and this rigged process,” House Republican Leader Christine Drazan said in a statement. “We will continue to keep all lines of communication open. I call on Governor Brown and the majority party to refer cap and trade to the people.”

Despite a slew of modifications to the cap-and-trade  program, which was initially proposed last year, Republicans say that Democrats refuse to accept their amendments. They now insist the plan be put before Oregon voters.

In a statement, Helt said she wanted to vote for “common ground climate legislation” and would stay behind “in hopes we can dig deeper, try harder and reach further to find a policy that works for all Oregonians.”

“I believe in moderate, bipartisan policy making, as do the people I serve in Bend,” Helt said. “The current cap and trade plan … isn’t balanced: going too far in raising the cost of living for working families while doing little for our environment. I am a no vote. Sadly, partisan polarization has pushed the Capitol to this moment once again.”

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said in a written statement that she had “routinely reached out to Republicans in a genuine effort to hear their ideas and compromise where we can.”

“My door is always open,” Kotek said. “For now, they have chosen to walk off the job. We may disagree on policy, but one thing is for sure — we can’t reach consensus if the Republicans don’t show up for work.”

Although Democrats have lamented that walkouts represent a breakdown of the legislative process, Drazan lobbed the same criticism back at them, saying they “have not had an interest in respecting the legislative process and have repeatedly refused to compromise.”

“Each and every amendment we offered on cap and trade in committee has been rejected,” Drazan said in a statement. “I had remained optimistic up until yesterday that a compromise could be reached. Unfortunately, our attempts to achieve a bipartisan consensus that would take into account the views of all Oregonians were denied.”

— Oregon Capital Bureau’s Sam Stites contributed reporting.

Reporter: 971-304-4148, cwithycombe@eomediagroup.com

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