SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature has officially signed off on a deal struck between lawmakers and backers of a voter-approved citizens initiative creating an independent redistricting commission to recommend new legislative, congressional and State School Board boundaries following the census every decade.
The Utah House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 67-4 to approve SB200, a compromise bill negotiated between lawmakers and Better Boundaries, the group behind Proposition 4. The bill now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for consideration.
Supporters say the bill strikes a balance by preserving the spirit of Proposition 4 without overriding the Legislature’s constitutional responsibilities to oversee redistricting.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned here … it’s compromise means everybody gives something,” said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, who said she sat in on negotiations about the bill.
Even though at times those negotiations got “heated” — and at one point “broke down” during the session — Spackman Moss said lawmakers and Better Boundaries were able to work together to settle on SB200.
“I’m very eager to see the public hold to account the commission and the Legislature” as this process moves forward, she said. “We hope the public will be an active partner in this process.”
The compromise between the two groups will require the independent redistricting commission to adopt its own rules to ban partisan gerrymandering. The commission will still be able to draw maps creating proposed congressional, legislative and State School Board boundaries to be presented to the Legislature. The Legislature has the ultimate authority to determine what to approve.
Former House lawmaker Rebecca Chavez-Houck, executive director for Better Boundaries, said in a statement Wednesday her group looks forward to seeing the independent redistricting commission’s work come to fruition next year.
“The heart of Prop. 4, an independent commission made up of stakeholders without vested interest in outcomes, whose primary interest is that of the public, is a win for Utahns,” Chavez-Houck said. “We thank all those who worked hard to get Prop. 4 passed for supporting our efforts as we fought during the last few months to keep the Commission whole. The compromise wasn’t perfect, but good policy is all about give and take.“
Rep. Jeff Stenquist, R-Draper, applauded all parties for reaching the compromise.
“At the end of the day, it will be a process that’s constitutionally sound, that’s transparent, and that allows the public to be involved as well,” he said.
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, arguing it maintains the “core of what we’re looking for in trying to make significant, incremental progress” away from a partisan and political redistricting process.
“It’s important that we recognize this bill represents a significant improvement over the status quo,” King said.
But opponents, including the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah, pushed against the bill, arguing it dilutes “accountability and transparency” from the Legislature’s role in the redistricting process.
“We always appreciate bipartisan collaboration on the Hill, and we are grateful for the efforts of Better Boundaries and the lawmakers who worked tirelessly to come to an agreement,” said Lauren Simpson, Alliance for a Better Utah’s policy director in a statement issued after the House’s vote.
“That being said, we must still acknowledge that this bill removes accountability and transparency from the redistricting process for the Legislature,” she said. “This will make it easier for lawmakers to avoid facing the public about the new maps they create for all of Utah.
“This bill preserves the independent redistricting commission from Prop. 4 and requires standards for its maps, which is good news,” Simpson added. “But it also makes it harder for the people of Utah to hold the Legislature accountable during and after the mapmaking process. This compromise is a walk-back of what Utah voters passed into law.”