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Proposal for redistricting reform is short-lived as parliamentary move ends debate

Follow our legislative coverage at The Indiana Citizen, in partnership with TheStatehouseFile.com

For the first time in its 2021 session, the Indiana General Assembly was poised Thursday to debate the issue of redistricting – one of its most momentous duties of 2021, the once-every-decade redrawing of the state’s congressional and legislative districts based upon fresh census data.

But the debate was over even before it began.

During Thursday’s House session, a Democratic proposal to amend an omnibus election bill, described as removing partisanship from the redistricting process, was blocked from discussion and an up-or-down vote on parliamentary grounds – the argument that the amendment was not germane to the bill it would amend.

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, introduced the amendment to Senate Bill 398, a 66-page document proposing a wide range of changes to election procedures and related state laws. The amendment provided for a redistricting process similar to that used in Iowa for the past four decades.

Under Pierce’s amendment, the responsibility for redrawing districts– now entirely in the hands of the 150-member legislature – would be delegated to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, which provides research, legal and other services to the General Assembly.

The redrawn districts would have to meet certain criteria such as being roughly equal in population and not crossing precinct lines. To avoid the potential for gerrymandering – the manipulation of district lines to benefit one party over another — LSA could not make use of political data such as voter registration figures, voting histories or demographics except to ensure racial balance as constitutionally required.

The maps drawn by LSA would then be submitted to the General Assembly for an “up or down vote,’’ Pierce said, with only technical amendments allowed. If the maps were rejected by the legislature or vetoed by the governor, LSA would be assigned to draw a second set of maps taking into account the objections, and then repeat the process.

In Iowa, Pierce said, the redrawing of the maps a second time is not unusual, but the legislature usually doesn’t continue beyond that point without approving them.

After Pierce’s presentation of the amendment, Rep. Daniel Leonard, R-Huntington and chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedures, raised the parliamentary point of order not to continue debate on the amendment due to it not being germane to the bill.

“There is no language in the bill about redistricting,” Leonard said from the floor. “Why is it appearing as an amendment on a bill that has nothing to do with redistricting?”

House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, upheld Leonard’s objection, but Democrats appealed Huston’s ruling, arguing the makeup of voting districts was relevant to the election legislation and charging that Republicans were shutting down debate on an issue important to their constituencies.

“I hear more about this issue than I do any other issue,’’ Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said in opposing Huston’s ruling – which ultimately was upheld in a vote that followed party lines except for two Republicans who voted against it.

In a press conference with House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (above), D-Fort Wayne, after the House session, Pierce said the parliamentary move to end discussion of the amendment was a deliberate move by Republicans to avoid taking a public stand on redistricting – a process that they controlled in 2011 and will again in 2021 due to holding majorities in both the House and the Senate.

“Republicans know the public wants a nonpartisan redistricting process, but they are intent on holding onto their supermajority at any cost,” Pierce said. “That is why they used a procedural ruling to block the amendment and avoid their constituents finding out where they stand on the issue.” – The Indiana Citizen

Taylor Dixon  contributed reporting. She is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.