By Taylor Dixon
INDIANAPOLIS—House Democrats were blocked Thursday from amending a bill to transfer redistricting responsibilities to a nonpartisan agency on grounds that it did not fit in the bill.
An amendment, which was proposed by Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, would give the Legislative Services Agency, a nonpartisan state agency, the responsibility of drawing new district lines. The LSA would be able to submit up to three map proposals that would leave out any political consideration.
Senate Bill 398 looks at a lot of different election matters, including clarifying seals on ballots and other issues.
Many Democrats claim that the current mapping system, in which district lines are determined by state lawmakers, unjustly favors Republicans because they hold the supermajority in the Statehouse.
"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."
However, House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said the amendment did not fit the language of the bill. SB 398 will be brought back up for a third reading.
“There is no language in the bill about redistricting,” Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, said in support of SB 398. “Why is it appearing as an amendment on a bill that has nothing to do with redistricting?”
Indiana is one of many states where legislatures are in charge of creating both legislative and congressional election districts. In 14 states, nonpartisan commissions are responsible for legislative lines, and in six states, commissions are responsible for congressional lines.
Common Cause of Indiana, a nonpartisan organization, has created the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission in support of citizen-led redistricting and will draw up a conclusion for the General Assembly this fall from data collected on election districts. Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause, said the commission believes it is a conflict of interest for Indiana lawmakers to control the redrawing of district lines.
“Redistricting has become about Republicans versus Democrats, right versus left, when really it should be about right versus wrong,” Vaughn said.
Taylor Dixon is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.