SALEM -- Republicans and Democrats said Tuesday they've reached a compromise on new boundaries for Oregon legislative districts, scaling a key hurdle and potentially paving the way for the Legislature to finish a task it hasn't completed in decades.
Lawmakers were not able to agree on new boundaries for congressional districts. But in a news conference, four negotiators hailed their legislative plan as a groundbreaking bipartisan agreement on an intensely political chore.
Today's agreement represents the first step toward eliminating decades of legislative futility, said Rep. Shawn Lindsay of Hillsboro, a Republican negotiator.
When U.S. Census figures are released every 10 years, the state must draw new boundaries for the 30 state Senate and 60 state House districts, realigning them based on shifting population.
If lawmakers fail to enact new legislative maps by July 1, the task will fall to Democratic Secretary of State Kate Brown -- a fallback option that gives Democrats a negotiating advantage. Lawmakers in Oregon have been unable to reach an agreement on legislative maps since 1981.
The proposed legislative maps released Tuesday align closely with the existing maps. Some Republicans have complained that the current boundaries benefit Democrats, but Republicans said Tuesday they were focused on reaching an agreement that could make it through the Legislature.
Democrats dispute that the current boundaries benefit them, pointing out that each party has controlled the state House for two terms and it is currently tied.
Both sides felt if we were going to get a plan through the legislature, a plan that makes minimal changes versus more aggressive and dramatic changes is going to have a better chance of success, said Rep. Chris Garrett of Lake Oswego, a Democratic negotiator.
Strong growth in Washington and Clackamas counties as well as the Bend area made those regions the toughest to work out, said Sen. Suzanne Bonamici of Portland, a Democratic negotiator.
The new boundaries would create a majority Hispanic district encompassing Woodburn and the northern part of Salem, Bonamici said. Another district, stretching from The Dalles to Hermiston in rural northeastern Oregon, would be 34 percent Hispanic.
The legislative redistricting committees will hold a public hearing on the maps, followed by votes in the House and Senate. If majorities of both chambers sign on, the proposal will go to Kitzhaber, who returned to the governor's office in January after eight out of public office.
It's good to see to Democrats and Republicans coming together to serve Oregonians, Kitzhaber said in a statement. This is an example of another productive legislative session one that has required collaboration and cooperation.
The lawmakers said they hadn't given up on reaching a compromise on congressional maps, but they're running out of time. The responsibility will fall to the courts if they don't reach an agreement by the end of the month.
Republicans and Democrats have had strong disagreements over how to divide heavily Democratic Multnomah County.
Republicans want to put the county almost entirely into a single congressional district, which would concentrate Democrats in that district and increase GOP clout in suburban districts. Democrats want to preserve existing districts, with the City of Portland divided into three separate districts.
Democrats currently control four of Oregon's five congressional districts and were not touched by a Republican wave that swept Democrats from office across the country in last year's election.
Oregon law requires redistricting efforts to ensure as much as possible that districts are contiguous; equal in population, respect existing geographic or political boundaries, don't divide communities of common interest; and are connected by transportation links.
It is an accomplishment that Oregon can be proud of, said Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend.