Oregon Capital Bureau
SALEM — The Oregon House will shut down for up to two weeks after reports of a positive COVID-19 case involving someone on the House floor last week.
The Legislature shut down activity in the Capitol on Monday following a report of a positive case of COVID-19 tied to an earlier floor session.
“The House will not return to floor session until Monday, March 29, at the earliest,” said Danny Moran, spokesman for House Speaker
Tina Kotek, D-Portland. “Committee work, which is being done remotely, will continue as planned.”
Kotek confirmed the positive case during an afternoon press call. She said it involved someone who worked on the House floor during a session last week. She said she could not yet say whether it was a lawmaker or staffer.
Kotek had abruptly adjourned Monday’s session at 1 p.m. without comment. During the press call she said she shut down the House after learning of the COVID-19 case.
“We want to keep members safe,” Kotek said.
During the press call, Kotek said she planned to bring the 60 House members back to the capitol on Wednesday after a review of public health protocols.
House Minority Leader Christin Drazan, R-Canby, issued a statement saying she recommended lawmakers go home and quarantine for up to two weeks.
“Out of an abundance of caution, my immediate recommendation is for legislators and staff to minimize the risk of an outbreak in Oregon’s capitol by returning home,” Drazan said.
Drazan said returning Wednesday would put the health of lawmakers and staff at jeopardy.
“There are several elected members from the House with underlying conditions who have not had the opportunity to vaccinate yet,” Drazan said.
The Legislature has not been vaccinated as a group. Individuals who are over 65 or fall into other priority eligibility groups can be inoculated. But lawmakers currently are not eligible as a group until April 19, when essential workers are eligible.
Kotek issued a statement late Monday afternoon that after consulting with Marion County health officials, the House members would quarantine through at least March 29.
Oregon is one of only four states that has not reported a COVID-19 case involving a state lawmaker or executive officer, according to the political tracking website Ballotpedia.org.
Kotek’s abrupt adjournment of the session on Monday at first seemed to be out of frustration over House Republicans requiring each bill be read in full prior to debate and a vote.
Kotek emphasized her frustration with Drazan and leaders of the Republican caucus. The GOP caucus has not waived the usual courtesy of having bills read by title only. By requiring the full bill to be read, the pace of action has slowed to a crawl.
Kotek said using the bill reading is rarely used so early in a session.
Republicans are “not interested in being part of the process,” Kotek said.
The delay could make getting through budget and other key bills difficult to do with 98 days left in the session.
Drazan has said the slowdown is an attempt to get Kotek to jettison legislation other than bills dealing with the budget, COVID-19 and wildfire relief.
“Here in Oregon, the House is running a crushing number of committees and pushing controversial legislation,” Drazan said in a statement earlier Monday.
She accused Kotek of an unwillingness to “compromise or work to build bipartisan support.”
Kotek said Drazan’s idea of bipartisanship was to have Democrats withdraw large amounts of their agenda or face endless delaying tactics or even a walkout.
“I am frustrated this is becoming normalized behavior,” Kotek said.
Voters have given Democrats a supermajority of more than three-fifths of the seats in the House and Senate.
Republicans could not win legislative and executive office races in recent elections, Kotek said. Now they are using blocking tactics to stop an agenda that Oregon voters endorsed at the ballot box.
“At the end of the day, votes will matter,” Kotek said.