The shape of the 2022 election could take a step forward Monday, Sept. 20, with a special session of the Legislature called by Gov. Kate Brown.
While Brown can call a special session, she can determine neither its length nor its scope. But in making the announcement, Brown said she hoped it would be short and stick to approved new district maps to be used for legislative and congressional seats in time for the 2022 election.
What exactly the Legislature would consider was unclear as the Senate and House redistricting committees finished the final set of hearings on different maps submitted by both parties in both chambers. The special session and the future political maps are required following the 2020 U.S. Census to redistribute population among the political districts. The maps would be used for the next decade, starting with the 2022 primary election.
The special sessions topped recent political news that also included developments in the race for governor and moves to appoint a new U.S. attorney for Oregon.
"This special session is an opportunity for legislators to set aside their differences and ensure Oregon voters have their voices heard at the ballot box," Brown said Sept. 3 in making her announcement.
Taking the next step
Though the time and place for a vote on redistricting is now set, exactly what lawmakers might be voting on was still up in the air with a week to go until the session convenes.
The House and Senate redistricting committees held three hearings on Monday, Sept. 13, the last of a series of legally required hearings for testimony from the pubic on how 30 Senate, 60 House and six congressional districts should be designed. Democrats had submitted two different plans from the House and Senate. Republicans submitted one for each of the two legislative chambers. Each party also released a plan for the congressional districts, which include a new district granted Oregon because of its population growth.
How the process would get from the eight different maps debated during the past week to a plan that would be voted on by the Legislature next week was unclear on Monday. House and Senate leaders did not respond to requests for two days for details on what the next steps would be for the maps.
Calling the Sept. 20 session would put the Legislature in the position to possibly meet the Sept. 27 deadline set by the Oregon Supreme Court for the House and Senate to vote on a plan, get Brown's approval, and deliver the finished maps to the court by Sept. 27.
Brown's office released a statement Monday underlining that it did know what the outcome of the debates would be. "Based on our office's conversations with legislative leadership, the work that went into creating the initial maps, and the important public testimony that is underway to include feedback on the maps from hundreds of Oregonians, we believe it's time for the Legislature to take the next step in the redistricting process by convening in special session to deliberate over the plans that have been developed," said Brown spokesman Charles Boyle.
Judges panel awaits
If the Legislature does not finish a plan that it can submit to the court by Sept. 27, the redistricting process would move the next day — Sept. 28 — in two different directions. The Oregon Supreme Court in a ruling last spring said Secretary of State Shemia Fagan would take over the legislative redistricting process. Fagan would be required to submit her plan to the Oregon Supreme Court by Oct. 18. Congressional redistricting would be done by a five-judge panel created by the Oregon Supreme Court.
If the Legislature submits its plan, the Oregon Supreme Court has set a Feb. 1, 2022, date for all legal challenges and implementation to be resolved. If the plan is done by the secretary of state and the judicial panel, the deadline would be Feb. 8, 2022.
The period to file for state and local offices on the primary ballot for the May 20, 2022 election opened on Sept. 9. But filing for the legislative and congressional seats is on hold until maps can be approved. Candidates can in the meantime create political action committees to raise funds for the races. Legislative committees are created with the secretary of state. Congressional committees with the Federal Election Commission.
The last day for candidates to file for office is March 8, 2022.
Capitol open for session
As things stood on Monday afternoon, Sept. 13, a special session on Sept. 20 would be held in the Capitol in Salem, as have three previous special sessions and the entire 2021 regular session of the Legislature.
One major difference: Barring action during the next week by legislative leaders, the session would be open to the public. The Capitol, which is controlled by the legislature and its officers, was closed to the public in March 2020 due to concerns over spreading COVID-19 infections. Legislative hearings were held remotely, but lawmakers came to the Capitol for the final votes on legislation. Masks were mandatory during most sessions and social distancing efforts included staggered time on the floor for the 60-memeber House. Activity was halted at least four times by reports of infection among lawmakers and staff. The Capitol reopened in July, when infections were ebbing, but before the recent rise in cases due to the delta variant.
The zip code that includes the capitol has frequently had the highest rate of infections per capita in the state during the pandemic, according to statistics from the Oregon Health Authority.
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