Dems offer concession on vaccines to end Republican walkout

Enough Republican state senators returned to the Oregon Senate in Salem on Monday, May 13, 2019, to end a standoff in its fifth day, in which GOP senators kept the Senate from reaching a quorum. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

Republicans in the Senate returned Monday to the Oregon Capitol after a multiday walkout to vote on an education tax proposal after Democrats agreed to drop a controversial vaccine proposal among other possible concessions.

Three Republicans appeared on the Senate floor in the afternoon, giving the chamber enough members to conduct business.

The bill, which had already passed the House, was in response to a measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest that sickened more than 70 people. The outbreak was recently declared over but the national measles count has hit its highest in decades.

The proposal would have ended families’ ability to opt-out of school vaccination requirements for personal, philosophical or religious reasons. On Friday Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a similar measure into law.

“This bill was about saving lives, protecting children and ensuring our shared immunity from dangerous and preventable diseases,” said Oregon Rep. Cheri Helt, the Republican from Bend behind the vaccine proposal. “It’s disappointing that once again the loudest, most extreme voices in our politics prevailed and the sensible-center and thoughtful policy-making lost.”

Senate Republicans walked out last May 7 to protest a proposed half a percent tax on some of Oregon’s wealthiest businesses. The tax, expected to raise $1 billion a year, would affect less than 10% of all businesses and is planned to be funneled into the classroom to help educators boost student performance and decrease class sizes.

But opponents said the tax will lead to higher prices for consumers and that the money will be diverted to pay down outstanding pension costs. Republicans had wanted the tax proposal sent back to committee and substantive changes to the state’s Public Employment Retirement System, which is more than $25 billion in debt.

Democrats responded by releasing their long-awaited pension fix on Friday, offering to shield public employers from the brunt of upcoming interest rate hikes by refinancing the debt and diverting money from employees’ individual pension accounts.

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