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Redistricting deadline looms over Oregon Legislature

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Oregon State Representatives congregate in the House, prior to the meeting being adjourned due to a COVID-19 exposure, during a special legislative session for redistricting congressional maps, Tuesday, Sept.
Oregon State Representatives congregate in the House, prior to the meeting being adjourned due to a COVID-19 exposure, during a special legislative session for redistricting congressional maps, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021 at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore.(Brian Hayes/Statesman-Journal via AP) Photo Gallery

SALEM, Ore. — Lawmakers in the Oregon House planned Saturday to debate new maps of congressional and legislative districts ahead of a looming deadline, but it’s uncertain whether they will have enough people show up to begin work.

Republican lawmakers are threatening to stay away to deny the House a quorum, the minimum number needed to do business.

Republicans are upset that Democratic House Speaker Tina Kotek rescinded a deal she made with them to split power in the redistricting process, even though Democrats have large majorities in the Senate and House.

The most substantial thing lawmakers are supposed to do before Sept. 27 is approve a new, sixth U.S. House seat for Oregon, which gained political clout following the latest census. If lawmakers are unable to agree on new congressional maps by the deadline, the job would fall to a panel of five retired judges appointed by the Oregon Supreme Court.

Democrats don’t have large enough advantages to convene without a few Republicans present. Quorum rules say there must be two-thirds of lawmakers — or 40 representatives on the House floor — for votes to take place. Oregon is one of the few states that require two-thirds of lawmakers to be present for any work to be done, instead of a simple majority.

Saturday’s planned session would follow a three-day pause because of a COVID-19 case in the Capitol.

Under the Democrats’ plan, the party would likely end up with five U.S. House seats to the GOP’s one. Democrats now have a 4-1 advantage among the state’s U.S. House members.

The deal Kotek pulled out of was decided in April, during the legislative session. She said that in exchange for Republicans ending their delay tactics that blocked bills, she would evenly split the House Redistricting Committee — essentially granting veto power to the GOP.

In a statement, Kotek said she decided to void the deal because she was “disappointed that after many months of work, House Republicans did not engage constructively despite many attempts to address their concerns.”

Republicans have said Kotek abandoning the deal was a “shameful” exercise of political power.

The Democrats’ map proposes that the new 6th Congressional District should be south of Portland, Oregon’s biggest city, and west of Interstate 5. Republicans also would put it south of Portland, but on the east side of the interstate.

In addition to the six congressional districts, lawmakers are also responsible for approving 90 legislative districts where voters pick state representatives and senators. If the legislative maps are not passed by Monday, the task will fall to Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, a progressive Democrat who few Republicans would want to see in charge of the process.

Both parties have used walkouts — a tool made available by the Oregon Constitution — in the past, with Republicans relying on it in recent years. Most notably, in 2019 Republicans used it to stop a cap-and-trade bill, a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

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