SALEM, Ore. — Following reports of a positive COVID-19 case in the Oregon Capitol, legislators were sent home early on the second day of talks Tuesday to redraw political maps.
The House is in the midst of the once-a-decade task of redistricting, which determines how voters will pick state representatives, state senators and members of Congress for the next five election cycles.
House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) came to the podium briefly Tuesday morning and said both she and House Republican Leader Christine Drazan were eager to take up congressional and legislative redistricting plans.
When Kotek returned to the podium again in the afternoon she informed lawmakers that the session would be adjourned until Wednesday, as someone in the Capitol the day before had tested positive for COVID-19. The session was later pushed to Saturday to give lawmakers time to get tested.
"Our goal has been to keep business at the Capitol as safe as possible," the Speaker said.
She did not elaborate on who the person was or what job they hold. Anyone who is vaccinated does not have to quarantine, Kotek said.
Late Tuesday, the Statesman Journal reported six House Republicans had requested to be excused from floor sessions this week "because of possible exposure to the infected person."
The special session started on Monday. Republicans railed against Kotek for revoking her promise to let bipartisan committees lead the way in drawing Oregon's new legislative districts. Kotek announce new committees stacked with democrats, arguing Republicans had stonewalled the process for months. One committee would approve the party's proposal of newly drawn Congressional districts, and another would approve state legislative districts.
"The plan was in fact to get gerrymandered maps through this body no matter what," alleged House Minority Leader Rep. Christine Drazan (R-Canby), speaking on the House floor to Speaker Kotek. "Oregonians do not deserve this."
This is all happening because Oregon is getting another representative in Congress on a federal level due to the state's growth in population. It's the first time in 40 years that has happened. The new representative needs a district — and people — to represent. The task of drawing that new district allows for a change to other district boundaries as well.
"I know [Republicans] are upset, but honestly I have been upset with them since the census data came out," said Rep. Andrea Salinas (D-Southwest Portland) in an interview Tuesday. "We're working off the 2011 maps because we have to. It's in statute, you have to use existing political and geographic boundaries, and then you have to accommodate those new population areas. And they happen to be in areas that don't historically vote Republican."
The deadline for the Legislature to complete redistricting plans for state legislative districts and federal congressional districts is September 27, 2021, according to a recent Oregon Supreme Court Decision.
If the state’s lawmakers can’t agree on a new map, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, a Democrat, will take over the legislative map process and a panel of judges will take over the congressional maps.