- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Democrats and Republicans at the North Carolina General Assembly sought again on Tuesday to take most redistricting powers out of their own hands in the name of fairness and competitive elections.

Any nonpartisan or independent redistricting legislation, however, is likely to again hit a roadblock among Senate Republicans.

The lawmakers, primarily House members, said they are filing a pair of bills this week to give the responsibilities of drawing legislative and congressional maps every 10 years to nonpartisan legislative staff or to a special commission. The legislature, in keeping with the state Constitution, would still have the final decision but would lack authority to alter map proposals.

This is the best time to consider changing the process with the next round of redistricting six years away following the 2020 census, said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, a longtime overhaul proponent.

“This is not about the current maps,” Stam said at a Legislative Building news conference. “The idea is that in constructing districts, the people with the most at stake are probably (the) ones who shouldn’t be doing the details.”

A nonpartisan, redistricting overhaul bill passed in 2011 - the same year the Republican-controlled General Assembly drew the last set of maps - but it went nowhere in the Senate. Those boundaries helped buttress GOP dominance by expanding their majorities in the House and Senate and have since given Republicans 10 of the state’s 13 U.S. House seats.

Maps penned by lawmakers have led to more politically safe seats for members of each party and fewer toss-up districts where the choices of all voters truly count.

“The growing perception among citizens is that they cannot have a voice in our system of democracy,” said Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, who represented a solidly Democratic district.

Senate GOP leaders say they have no interest in the idea. Rules chairman Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said Tuesday any House bill would go nowhere in his chamber.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, told The Associated Press in an interview last week the current system works well, especially after the state Supreme Court laid out new guidelines in the early 2000s on how to draw districts lawfully. The Supreme Court upheld the 2011 maps last December.

“It doesn’t need a new commission,” said Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, who helped draw the boundaries. “It’s unnecessary.”

Opposition by senators is a departure from the previous decade, when Senate Republicans were in the minority and Democrats had controlled redistricting for decades. GOP senators at the time repeatedly introduced redistricting commission legislation.

Supporters of redistricting overhauls noted the change of heart among Republicans and noted the GOP may not be the majority party in the future.

“It’s about the Golden Rule - treating others the way you want to be treated,” said Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, adding a commission “was the right thing to do then, and it’s still the right thing to do today.”

Twenty-one states have redistricting commissions that draw maps or advises lawmakers on boundaries, or have commissions if lawmakers can’t agree on how to draw maps, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

One measure would take effect with the next remapping following the 2020 census. The other wouldn’t begin until after 2030, although a statewide referendum would be required sooner.

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