Oregon lawmakers start lists of topics for special session

The Oregon Capitol in Salem.

After a double-dose of winter storms across the Willamette Valley knocked out power to hundreds of thousands from Portland to Salem, state government is trying to thaw out a few hot issues.

Redistricting delay

Oregon should know by April 30 if it will be adding a sixth congressional seat for the 2022 election. Census officials have unofficially said Oregon's population growth has been enough to ensure the state's first new seat in 40 years.  

The new added representation in Congress would be a rare piece of good news in an otherwise disastrous rollout of U.S. Census information needed for reapportionment. In addition to the sixth likely congressional district, Oregon Legislature's 60 House and 30 Senate seats will need new boundaries. Data to redraw the maps was due April 1 — but census officials now say it won't arrive until Sept. 30 — six months late.

“The biggest reason? COVID-19. It’s something beyond the Census Bureau’s control,” Kathleen Styles, the census bureau's top redistricting official, said last week.

State officials need the block-by-block data to draw districts that meet federal and state civil rights guidelines.

The late September delivery date is 45 days after Oregon's self-imposed deadline for submitting maps. The mess will land in the Oregon Supreme Court, which will referee whether the Legislature gets a shot at reapportionment, whether it goes to the Secretary of State or some other result. The congressional maps could go to a five-judge panel. 

Big population increases over the past decade will add legislative districts to Central Oregon and Portland suburbs. But lawmakers and potential challengers won't know what districts will look like earlier than late fall at best.

Expulsion of House member back on track

The winter storm and power outages led the House to cancel a planned floor session this week that would have included a vote on expelling Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, over allegations of sexual harassment. Hernandez has refused repeated requests by Gov. Kate Brown and top legislative officials to resign. The vote — listed as House Resolution 1 — is now scheduled for Feb. 23.

Legislative logjam

Lawmakers have submitted thousands of new bills and resolutions for the current session — with the overwhelming majority headed for the trash bin.

Concern over possible right-wing violence last month and winter storms this month have put the 2021 session behind schedule from the beginning. The Legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn July 1. 

Deadlines are starting to loom. Friday is the deadline for drafted bills to be sent from staff to lawmakers. The final day that bills can be introduced is Feb. 23. With the exception of bills that go to Rules or Ways & Means committees, bills that don't hit key deadlines automatically die.

Bills must have a work session — when a bill is brought up for a vote by committee — scheduled by March 19. The work session must occur by April 13. At each point, the number of dead bills grows.

Additional deadlines for floor votes, hearings and work sessions in the second chamber are all trip-wires for bills to die. By the time the Legislature adjourns, the legislative carnage at each point accounts for the overwhelming majority of legislation.

The logistics of virtual committee hearings and the need to limit floor sessions because of the COVID-19 infection level will make it difficult to make up ground already lost. 

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said last week there will be little time left to debate beyond a short list of pandemic-related bills, economic recovery, housing, police reform and the sprawling state budget. 

2022 election early birds

It's been just a little over three months since the 2020 election, but candidates are starting to pop up for 2022 races.

Sixteen candidate campaign finance committees have been created. Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, is the biggest name to have a 2022 committee so far. Others include Bud Pierce, who has declared his candidacy for the GOP nomination for the open governor's seat in 2022. Pierce was the 2016 GOP nominee for governor, losing to Brown, who is barred by term limits from seeking another term.

In a separate move, Raiph Huber, a Springfield private security officer, has filed with the Federal Election Commission to create a fundraising committee to run in the Republican primary in Congressional District 2, a seat held by freshman Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario.

While candidacy for Congress must be filed with the state, fundraising is handled by the federal commission.

Exoneration expenses

People who are incarcerated for crimes they did not commit would be eligible for state payments under Senate Bill 499, introduced by Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer.

Oregon is currently one of 15 states that does not automatically allocate money to someone who is exonerated of a crime they didn't commit. The average allocation in states that do offer aid is $50,000 per year behind bars, according to the Oregon Innocence Project, which works to clear wrongly convicted people.

The group says 21 people in Oregon who served nearly 90 years cumulatively in prison have been exonerated in recent years. The bill is currently in the Senate Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation committee. No hearing date has been scheduled.

Kropf steps up

Until the past week, new Rep. Jason Kropf, D-Bend, was not listed as a sponsor of any legislation during the current session.

Kotek said it wasn't unusual for freshman lawmakers to go slow at the beginning, and lawmakers have been told that a lot of legislation won't be considered with heavy workload and limited time.

But Kropf is now one of three chief co-sponsors on HB 2593 — to establish a search and rescue card that would defray costs of local government efforts to find lost or injured people. 

He's also signed on as co-sponsor of five other bills — a requirement for gun locks, limits on transfers of gun ownerships, plus legal services for inmates, wildfire protection and low-income housing assistance.

Kropf is vice-chair of the House Economic Recovery and Prosperity Committee, which plots the course of the state's comeback from COVID-19. He's also on the House Judiciary and Joint Ways & Means Committees.

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