A confirmed coronavirus case and its after-effects will push the Oregon House close to a Sept. 27 deadline for lawmakers to approve congressional and legislative redistricting plans.
The House will reconvene Saturday, Sept. 25, just days before the deadline set by the Oregon Supreme Court for lawmakers to complete their work. If they do not, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan will take over legislative redistricting and a special panel named by the high court will oversee congressional redistricting.
Any adopted plan is subject to legal challenge with the court, which is the final arbiter of both plans. Fagan and the special panel also will face deadlines for plans that the court laid out in a decision earlier this year.
The House had a pro forma session Wednesday, Sept. 22, but only to adjourn to Saturday.
A person in the Capitol tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus on Monday, the opening day of the special session, when the Senate passed both plans and sent them to the House. Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland created two committees, instead of one evenly split between the parties that had existed during the 2021 regular session and the interim — and minority Republicans cried foul.
The confirmed COVID-19 case paused that squabble, although the two House panels have advanced Senate Bill 881 (congressional plan) and 882 (legislative plan) to votes of the full House. For the congressional plan, two Democrats advanced it when the lone Republican boycotted the meeting; for the legislative plan, the other panel advanced it on a 5-3 vote when one Republican joined the four Democrats.
A memo from Kotek's chief of staff, Lindsey O'Brien, said the longer delay would allow time for test results to be returned for members and staff who were exposed to the infected person.
In the memo released by Kotek's office, she said: "This timeline will ensure that members who require tests will have the opportunity to get results back. It will also allow enough time for the House to confirm quorum and complete its work by voting on the bills that the Senate passed for House consideration.
"As always, it is our top priority to protect the health and safety of the Capitol community while continuing to fulfill the Legislature's constitutional duty."
Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby said on Tuesday, Sept. 21, that she agreed with the COVID-19 protocol, which resulted in at least two House shutdowns during the 2021 regular session.
She added: "In the meantime, we will continue ongoing conversations with Democratic leadership on the redistricting process.
"It's in the best interest of Oregonians that we salvage an opportunity to pass fair maps. They deserve fair representation despite the unexpected actions taken by the speaker yesterday.
"We need fair maps for Oregon and that's still possible."
Oregon lawmakers did agree on congressional and legislative maps after the 2010 Census, and the maps were not challenged in court. For congressional redistricting, it was a first since 1981, when Oregon gained a fifth U.S. House seat. For legislative redistricting, it was the first time in a century.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.