Oregon legislative logjam lifted in redistricting compromise

Politics

GOP gets voice on redrawing districts; Dems can proceed with more than 80 bills

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, 2021 (Pamplin Media Group/Jonathan House)

SALEM, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — The Oregon House has broken its legislative logjam with each party making a concession.

Minority Republicans gained a voice in shaping the redrawing of legislative and congressional district boundaries. The relevant House committee will have Democratic and Republican co-leaders — and the House Republican leader was added to the committee for an even 3-3 split.

In return, majority Democrats can proceed with more than 80 bills, most of them noncontroversial, without having to have them read aloud before final votes. Republicans had refused to waive the bill-reading requirement, which slowed the House to voting on a trickle of bills each day, depending on the length of their texts.

The tacit agreement came about Wednesday, April 14, after the House convened more than an hour late for a scheduled evening session. The public session was delayed because of the backstage talks between the parties.

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House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby did not comment on the specifics, but said only that she hoped it would lead to greater cooperation between the party caucuses. She did mention April 1 action in which the House unanimously approved budget bills for $250 million in summer learning and recreational programs, plus money for wildfire recovery, pandemic aid and other issues.

“We are very pleased that so far we’ve been able to expedite the budget to fund relief on these critical issues, along with a number of other proposals that solve problems people are facing,” she said in her statement. “We look forward to expanding on this collaborative work with our colleagues following this agreement.”

House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby, 2021 (Pamplin Media Group/Jonathan House)

For Democrats, the bipartisan agreement allows the House to proceed with discussion and votes on a backlog of bills, most of them having emerged from committees without dissent. (The House has scheduled at least one much-debated bill for Monday, April 19. It would set requirements for firearms locks and storage, a bill strongly opposed by gun-rights advocates.)

For Republicans, the power-sharing agreement will result in them and Democrats having to agree on plans that emerge from the House Redistricting Committee to redraw legislative and congressional district lines after the 2020 Census.

The deal does not apply to the Senate, where the counterpart committee has three Democrats and two Republicans.

It is similar to what happened in 2011, when the House was tied at 30 Democrats and 30 Republicans, and the relevant committee was similarly split. That Legislature reached a compromise plan then, the first in a century, that was not challenged in court.

Incentive to get along

As a result of an April 9 Oregon Supreme Court decision, both parties — and both chambers — have an incentive not to stall. The court laid out a new timeline for lawmakers to come up with a legislative redistricting plan because census-block data from the federal government will be unavailable until late summer. If lawmakers fail to come up with a plan by the new deadline of Sept. 27, the task will fall to Democratic Secretary of State Shemia Fagan — and she will not be bound by what lawmakers have done.

Republicans would like to avoid having this task fall to a former Democratic senator who has been in the secretary of states’ office only a few months.

Regardless of who does it, any plan can be challenged in the Supreme Court, which is the final arbiter.

So which communities might see the biggest change after redistricting?

During briefings in February to House and Senate redistricting committees, a population expert at Portland State University said legislative districts based in Washington County, Deschutes County and those straddling the Multnomah-Clackamas line will have to shrink because their populations have grown beyond the average. Districts based on the coast and most areas east of the Cascades will need to expand boundaries.

That could result in more urban lawmakers, and fewer rural lawmakers, across the state.

The court case last week does not directly involve congressional redistricting, which will be done by a special panel named by the court if lawmakers fail to reach agreement. Unlike legislative redistricting, congressional redistricting is not mentioned in the Oregon Constitution.

Compromise agreement

The end of the House logjam came in the form of one motion and one announcement at the close of a brief House session Wednesday night.

Republican Rep. Duane Stark of Grants Pass moved to waive the constitutional requirement for all bills to be read in full before a vote on final passage. This motion is usually routine, but it requires a two-thirds majority to suspend the rule — and the 23 Republicans had opposed it on a couple of previous Democratic-led attempts to waive it.

The GOP refusal led to the first-time use of computer software to read some of the longer bills. It took the better part of three days last week for the software to read a 170-page bill that changes the name of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission. And this wasn’t a controversial bill: it ultimately passed, 54-1.

After Stark’s motion was approved on a voice vote — it was not recorded — the House moved to adjourn the evening session near its scheduled time of 9 p.m.

Then Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat from Portland, announced changes to the House Redistricting Committee. Democratic Rep. Andrea Salinas of Lake Oswego will be joined as co-chairwoman by Republican Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis of Albany.

Also, Drazan was added as a member, so there will be three Democrats and three Republicans.

Other members are Democrats Winsvey Campos of Aloha and Khanh Pham of Portland, and Republican Daniel Bonham of The Dalles.

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