BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A measure that could favor Republicans on an independent Idaho commission that draws congressional and legislative maps stalled Tuesday amid a protest by Democrats.
The House sent the legislation back to a committee after Democrats called it a rushed attempt at gerrymandering by adding a seventh member to the commission.
“Running a constitutional amendment in 48 hours without any opportunity for due process that gave them a license to gerrymander might have been a bad idea,” Democratic House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding said after the House adjourned.
Republicans say the change is needed to avoid lengthy legal battles commissions have dealt with before settling on new district boundaries.
Republicans introduced the legislation on Feb. 6 and held a public hearing two days later before the House State Affairs Committee. Three Democrats on that committee said that was too fast to allow adequate public participation and walked out in protest just before the 10 Republicans voted to advance the legislation to the full House.
Later that day in the House, Erpelding had bills read in their entirety in a slow-down maneuver he said would continue throughout the legislative session and that could significantly delay progress in the House.
Republican House Majority Leader Mike Moyle made a motion Tuesday to send the legislation back to the committee. There were no objections.
“There’s nothing that’s settled or agreed upon, but we’re talking and you get agreements when you talk,” Moyle said after the House adjourned. “I don’t think any of us want the courts to keep being the ultimate answer to this redistricting question.”
GOP House Speaker Scott Bedke said he thought there were possible areas of agreement but didn’t sound ready to completely give up on the current legislation.
“I would just as soon not read all of the bills verbatim,” he said. “But if we have to, we will.”
Erpelding was less optimistic about reaching a deal.
“At this point, they’ve never proposed anything but a way to basically over-utilize and mishandle their own power on the commission,” he said.
Currently, districts for Congress and the state Legislature are drawn every 10 years by a six-member commission answerable only to the courts. The majority and minority party leaders in each legislative chamber each select one person to serve on the commission; the state chairs of the Republican and Democratic parties also select a commissioner.
Members cannot be government officials or lobbyists. At least two-thirds of the commissioners must vote to approve a redistricting map.
It’s a bipartisan system that has been in place since 1994 through a constitutional amendment spearheaded by a ballot initiative. Commissions over the years have faced lengthy legal battles before settling on new district boundaries.
The legislation put forward by Republican Rep. Steve Harris calls for a seventh commissioner to be selected by the governor, lieutenant governor, state controller, state treasurer and superintendent of public instruction. All those statewide posts are held by Republicans.
Harris said the change is needed after problems and lawsuits arose during the previous redistricting in 2012. If his proposed legislation is eventually passed by a two-thirds majority in the GOP-dominated Senate and House, the plan would then go to the voters for approval.
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