Image for Capitol Drama Over Resignation, Walkout, Lawsuit
The Republican walkout in protest of contentious votes denied a quorum for Senate floor action for four days last week.

Kotek Delays I-205 Tolling and ‘Right to Rest” Put to Rest

There was high drama last week at Oregon’s Capitol with a high-profile resignation, a Republican legislative walkout, House passage of abortion and gun legislation and the opening salvo of budget decisions. Governor Kotek eased political anxiety by delaying Portland-area highway tolling until at least January 2026 and two lawmakers joined Oregon Right to Life in a legal challenge involving the readability statute.

Secretary of State Shemia Fagan resigned under pressure from the fallout of her side gig on behalf of an embattled cannabis company. Senate Republicans staged the first legislative walkout of the session, after Oregon voters approved a measure to punish lawmakers with 10 or more unexcused absences as a result of previous walkouts.

The House approved on party-line votes two measures dealing with abortion and gender-affirming care and with gun regulation. The Senate Republican walkout is in response to House Bill 2002 and House Bill 2006 bypassing committees and going directly to Senate floor votes.

The Ways and Means Subcommittee on Capital Construction took public testimony on a wide range of potential investments. Dozens of local community leaders, elected officials and citizens presented projects with the hope of scoring limited state resources via lottery bonds. The budget process will move into high gear following release of the May 17 revenue report.

Kotek asked the Oregon Department of Transportation to delay collecting tolls until January 2026 at the earliest, partially in response to House Bill 3614 introduced last week by 31 lawmakers requiring a two-year pause on tolling I-205.

Fagan Resignation

Fagan Replacement
Deputy Secretary of State Cheryl Myers will oversee the agency until Kotek selects a replacement. No timeline has been announced. Whoever is appointed will fill the office until voters choose a secretary of state in the 2024 general election. Unlike filling legislative vacancies, the governor has sole discretion on who to appoint as long as the individual is of the same party as his or her predecessor. The appointed secretary of state won’t be next in line to succeed as governor. That role falls to the next in line, Treasurer Tobias Read. Read is a potential candidate, facing term limits in his current role and reportedly looking for his next opportunity. The Oregonian editorial board recommended the appointment of Mark Hass, the former state senator who ran second in the Democratic secretary of state primary behind Fagan.

Cannabis Audit Defended
The state auditor who conducted the cannabis industry audit defended its findings despite Fagan’s potentially conflicted involvement. The audit generally finds the industry is over-regulated and subject to high fines for minor offenses.

Houses Passes Gender-Affirming Care, Abortion Bill
House Bill 2002 passed the House with a 36-23 vote after several hours of procedural motions and heartfelt, dramatic debate. HB 2002 would require Medicaid and private insurers to cover procedures under the umbrella of gender-affirming care, nearly all of which have been required for years under a bulletin issued by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner in alignment with federal and state mental health parity laws. The more controversial provision would allow minors of any age to get an abortion without needing to notify a parent, among other policies.

House Passes Gun Regulation
By a 35-24 margin, the House approved House Bill 2005, dubbed the “gun violence prevention bill.” The bill would crack down on ghost-guns, raise the age to purchase certain types of firearms and allow local governments the opportunity to decide whether guns are prohibited on public property.

Senate GOP Boycott
In frustration over multiple issues, Senate Republicans staged the first walkout of this session, denying a quorum on Wednesday with five members with unexcused absences. The minority party argued that bill summaries don’t meet a readability and transparency standard as required by ORS 171.134. The issue of readability originally came up in the House during debate on House Bill 2002, the reproductive rights and gender affirming care bill.

Fractures between Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, and Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, have been reported since before Wagner assumed his new role late last year. Knopp attempted to remove Wagner from his office in a failed vote last week.

“Since the beginning of the session, I have argued that Wagner is untrustworthy, deeply partisan and lacks the necessary skills to run the Senate in a bipartisan fashion,” Knopp said in a statement. “That has been proven true every step of the way, and his behavior this week may be the clearest demonstration yet.”

A walkout tactic has been utilized repeatedly by the minority party over the past few years, but this session is different. In November, Oregon voters approved a ballot measure that would prohibit legislators from running for re-election if they had more than 10 unexcused absences. The legality of the ballot measure may be heading for a court battle if this walkout continues.

Readability Test
Two Republican lawmakers joined Oregon Right to Life in a lawsuit against the state focusing on House Bill 2002, the abortion access and gender-affirming care bill containing parental rights provisions causing concern among Republicans.

“It is clear that legislation we adopt must be plainly written and easy to understand,” Senator Suzanne Weber, R-Tillamook, said in a statement. “Anything less disenfranchises Oregonians across the state and violates the law in the process.”

Right to Life and the two plaintiffs lost an initial procedural court ruling as Oregon judges have historically been reticent to tell the legislature how to conduct its business. The lawsuit will take months, if not years, to resolve. If ultimately successful, the suit could have ramifications for thousands of bills passed by the legislature since the readability statute went into effect in 1979.

Kotek Delays Tolling Until 2026
After months of controversy and legislative discussion, Governor Kotek asked the Oregon Department of Transportation to delay collecting tolls until January 2026 at the earliest. This is partially in response to legislation introduced last week by 31 lawmakers requiring a two-year pause on tolling I-205.

Kotek’s office indicated in an email statement Wednesday that the pause “will allow time for our office, the Oregon Transportation Commission and the Legislative Subcommittee on Transportation Planning to receive more information on the agency’s plans to mitigate diversion and address equity concerns.”

‘Right to Rest’ Put to Rest
Legislation was declared dead for the session that would have given unsheltered people a “right to rest” and a right to seek civil damages of $1,000 after earlier forecasts the was on track to pass. “House Bill 3501 doesn’t have the support or the time to move forward, full stop,” House Majority Leader Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, said in a statement Tuesday. “Given that this bill has become a significant distraction from all of the work we’re doing this legislative session – including historic investments and groundbreaking policy work on housing – Chair Maxine Dexter, D-Portland, has made the decision, with my support, to cancel the public hearing set for this Thursday.”

More Automatic Voter Registration – HB 2107
On a party-line vote, the House approved House Bill 2107 that would automatically register to vote unregistered Oregonians when they sign up for the Oregon Health Plan. Oregonians are automatically registered to vote when they obtain a driver’s license. Republicans expressed reservations about the bill that was introduced by former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan. House Majority Leader Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, said the policy behind the legislation has been vetted for two years and is sound. Automatic registration for a state Medicaid program requires federal approval. HB 2107, which now moves to the Senate, would not implement automatic voter registration until 2026.

Self-Service Gas – HB 2426
A Senate committee held a hearing and appeared likely to advance legislation lifting 70-year-old restrictions for self-service gas. The proposal would allow all gas stations statewide to offer self-serve gas at all hours while requiring an attendant for anyone who might want to be served, including elderly people and those with disabilities. No more than half of a station’s pumps could be self-serve, prices at all pumps would have to be the same and signs would have to note the service level of pumps.

Watered-Down Rent Control Bill – SB 611
A less aggressive version of rent control legislation emerged from Senate Rules but with continuing opposition from Senate Republicans that could limit its chances for passage.