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Republicans in Oregon Senate end six-week walkout that blocked bills on abortion, trans health care

The Oregon Senate is seen in session at the state capitol in Salem, Ore., Thursday, June 15, 2023. Enough Republican members showed up in the Oregon Senate on Thursday to end a six-week walkout that halted the work of the Legislature and blocked hundreds of bills, including some on abortion, transgender health care and gun safety. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Enough Republican members showed up in the Oregon Senate on Thursday to end a six-week walkout that halted the work of the Legislature and blocked hundreds of bills, including some on abortion, transgender health care and gun safety.

The boycott, which prevented the Senate from reaching a two-thirds quorum needed to pass bills, was prompted by a sweeping measure on abortion and gender-affirming care that Republicans said was too extreme. The measure would allow doctors to provide abortions regardless of a patient’s age, with medical providers not required to notify the parents of a minor in certain cases.

As part of the deal to end the walkout, Democrats agreed that in cases where minors seek abortions but want to avoid telling their parents, such as in cases of incest, a provider would have to obtain approval from a second provider.

Democrats said the measure will still ensure abortion access and protect caregivers from anti-abortion or gender-affirming care measures passed by other states. It will also require that health insurance covers medically necessary gender-affirming care.

The walkout also blocked the approval of the two-year state budget and a gun-safety measure opposed by the GOP that would increase the purchasing age to 21 for semiautomatic rifles. Democrats agreed to drop the age restriction from the broader measure outlawing the manufacture or transfer of untraceable “ghost guns.”

GOP Minority Leader Sen. Tim Knopp had said the boycott would end only on the session’s last day — June 25 — to pass “bipartisan” legislation and budget bills. But an optimistic mood took over the Capitol this week as GOP and Democratic leaders met to negotiate compromises, and on the Senate floor Thursday, Knopp said he looked forward to finishing the session in “an extraordinarily bipartisan way.”

“We asked for lawful, we asked for constitutional, we asked for compromise, and I see that from your side,” Knopp said as he addressed Democratic Senate President Rob Wagner following Thursday’s roll call. “We appreciate everyone who was involved.”

There are 17 Democrats in the 30-member Senate, meaning at least three Republican or independent members must show up to make a quorum. Five GOP members were in attendance Thursday, and Democratic leaders said the Republicans have promised to provide enough senators to make a quorum for the rest of the session.

The longest walkout in the Legislature’s 163-year history happened despite voters passing a ballot measure in 2022 that disqualifies lawmakers with 10 or more unexcused absences from reelection. Republican senators are likely to sue over the measure if they’re not allowed to register as candidates, starting in September, for the 2024 election. Republicans also walked out in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

On June 1, Senate Democrats voted to fine senators $325 every time their absence denied a quorum.

On Wednesday, more than 40 Oregon Democratic House and Senate members sponsored a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the state Constitution to require a majority of each chamber in the Legislature to be present to conduct business. If passed by the Legislature, it would go before Oregon voters in a ballot measure in the 2024 election.

Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek can bring lawmakers back for a special session if the House and Senate don’t approve the budgets by the time the regular session ends.

The Republicans had initially said they were boycotting because bill summaries did not meet a long-forgotten state law that required them to be written at a level an eighth-grader could understand.

The walkout, which began on May 3, is the second-longest of any U.S. state, after Rhode Island, according to a list by Ballotpedia.

In 1924, Republican senators in Rhode Island fled to Rutland, Massachusetts, and stayed away for six months, ending Democratic efforts to have a popular referendum on the holding of a constitutional convention.

That self-imposed exile followed the detonation of a gas bomb in the Senate chamber. Democrats and Republicans both accused each other of setting it off.