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Oregon GOP Lawmakers' Disappearance Will Block Climate Change Bill

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Republican lawmakers in Oregon have walked away from the state Capitol in protest of climate change legislation. This boycott began in the state Senate on Monday. It expanded to the House on Tuesday. Oregon Public Broadcasting's Dirk VanderHart reports.

DIRK VANDERHART, BYLINE: Republicans don't hold much power in the state capital of Salem, but they do have a nuclear option. If they don't show up, Democrats can't muster the two-thirds quorum needed to conduct business. GOP senators walked away twice last year to block legislation they opposed. Now they're back at it. With Democrats on the verge of passing a bill to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Republicans in both chambers have now fled the Capitol. They say the new regulations would ratchet up costs, harming people in their rural districts. Herman Baertschiger is Oregon's Senate Republican leader.

HERMAN BAERTSCHIGER: Our district says stop this horrible legislation because they realize that this fundamentally changes the way Oregon's economy is going to be.

VANDERHART: Baertschiger and other members of his party say they'll only return if Democrats either kill the climate change bill or put it before voters in November. Democrats have signaled they won't do either. Democratic Governor Kate Brown has accused Republicans of abandoning their constitutional responsibilities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATE BROWN: It's extremely disappointing that instead of staying to do the jobs they were elected to do, Senate Republicans have chosen to take a taxpayer-funded vacation.

VANDERHART: With GOP members of the House joining the Senate boycott, activity in the Capitol has ground to a halt. In past standoffs, Democrats sent state police after absent Republicans. That hasn't happened this time around, but Republican leader Baertschiger says some of his members have crossed state lines just to be safe.

BAERTSCHIGER: I do not know where most of them are, to be quite honest. But they're gone.

VANDERHART: As the stalemate continues, major policy and budget bills hang in the balance. Oregon's legislative session must adjourn in less than two weeks. For NPR News, I'm Dirk VanderHart in Salem, Ore.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "SMOKE SIGNALS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.