The 2023 legislative session has finally concluded. Both the House & Senate rushed through bills to meet the 160-day constitutional deadline of June 25th. Seemingly more bills were pushed through the legislature during the last two weeks of session than during the prior two months. It is really a challenging process, where legislators scramble to keep up with the specifics of each bill and budget, let alone any last minute amendments. However, much of this is done on purpose to keep most legislators in the dark. It is really no more than a version of what US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi once said, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in the bill.” While the majority party is gleeful from the passage of their bills, the minority is frustrated with the oblique and frantic pace which prevents real transparency and public input.
HB 2002 & HB 2005
The two most controversial bills the 2023 legislative session were HB 2002 (expansion of abortion and insurance mandates for gender treatment/surgery) and HB 2005 (omnibus gun control bill). Republicans spent over 10 hours on the House floor debating both bills before they passed in early May. Then in the Senate chamber, Republicans and Independents denied quorum to block these bills from final passage. A denial of quorum means a chamber does not have enough members present to conduct business. Constitutionally, each chamber must have 2/3’s of its legislators on the chamber floor in order to vote. This requirement exists to foster dialogue between the majority and minority parties. The lack of quorum caused great concern for some legislators as many bills and budgets had not yet passed and were stopped from moving forward, including HB 2002 & HB 2005. Moreover, without budgets passing — the only constitutional obligation of the legislature — a special session would have been inevitable.
Late last week at the 11th hour, a deal was struck by the Senate Republicans and Democrats to amend HB 2002 & HB 2005 in order to end the stalemate. These amendments made HB 2002 & HB 2005 “better”, but in my opinion, even the amended versions of the bills are still incompatible with the idea that a legitimate government protects life and individual liberty, not weakens those protections. As the amended bills passed the Senate on a party-line vote, the bills then had to return to the House for a vote to concur with the Senate amendments. House Republicans had an opportunity to prevent these bills from passing by denying quorum for 5 days until the end of session. It would have meant many other bills, special projects and budgets would also fail to pass, therefore requiring a special session. However, in my view the collateral cost would have been worth the reward. Half of House Republicans agreed and were not present on the House chamber floor in protest; the other half were present, which was enough to provide the Democrats quorum. The two bills passed last Wednesday.
There is much blame to go around for the passage of these, and other policy, bills. However, rather focusing on the negative, it is important to remember that as long as the State Capitol is a place of one party rule — with only one political philosophy shaping most bills and budgets — with a Governor also of the same party, Republicans and Independents will always face extremely difficult challenges, with few opportunities to stop such anti-life and anti-2nd amendment policies.
The answer is not to blame others, but to engage in the process in order to change the minds of legislators. It is imperative to bring balance and common sense back to Salem. Under a balanced government extreme ideas, like HB 2002 & HB 2005, would not be allowed to go any further than a passing hallway conversation. Moreover, real dialog from different perspectives could happen without having to enact delay tactics or halt the business of either chamber.