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Key lawmakers, governor skeptical about chance for redistricting reform this year

January 5, 2018

Top Indiana Republican lawmakers who are carrying redistricting reform bills aren’t feeling good about the chance of passage this session.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, told reporters Thursday that he thinks a bill that he’s authoring with Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, “would have a tough time getting out of the House.”

And Torr told IBJ that his bill “probably won’t move this year.”

"We’ll have a difficult time because we have so many Republicans now who have never served in the minority,” Torr said. “It’s a hard sell. And the chairman of the committee doesn’t like it.”

Then Friday afternoon, Gov. Eric Holcomb told IBJ that he is “skeptical so far in what I’ve read” of redistricting reform plans because “there is politics on both sides of this” and he is skeptical that the state could find truly nonpartisan people to draw districts.

“It doesn’t meant I wouldn’t ultimately support” legislation, Holcomb said. “I’ve seen this not work in other places. We have a process now that’s left in the people’s representatives’ hands.”

The Torr and Bosma bill, which will be officially filed next week, would create an independent redistricting commission to create, hold hearings on, and recommend new electoral maps, which the General Assembly would then vote on.

Republican Sens. John Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis, and Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, have a similar bill filed in the Senate.

Torr said what’s stopped his bill in the past is that he hasn’t had the support of Elections and Apportionment Committee Chairman Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus. Torr said he wasn’t sure if it would get a hearing this year in the committee.

Smith last year blocked a committee vote on Torr’s bill, stating “heavy work” on needed changes to the bill hadn’t been done, effectively killing it for the year.

Smith’s spokesman told IBJ that he didn’t know what the lawmaker planned to do with the bill this year.

The lawmakers’ subdued comments come as grassroots activists step up their presence on the issue. Supporters showed up to the first day of the General Assembly on Wednesday with donuts and handouts, greeting lawmakers and advocating for reform.

In a press release from the coalition group All IN for Democracy, Debbie Asberry, a redistricting advocate for the League of Women Voters, said that “last year, hundreds of grassroots advocates packed the Statehouse to support redistricting reform only to have the committee hearing end without the bill receiving a vote.”

“We said then that we were disappointed but that we were not going away,” Asbury said in the release. “We are keeping that promise and are here, ready to go, on the first day of session."

Asberry told IBJ that despite the down-trodden comments from House legislators, supporters are still “cautiously optimistic” because of the Senate bill, and the growing statewide and national awareness around redistricting reform.

“Who would have known six months ago we’d have a Senate bill as strong as we have?” Asberry said. “That’s very heartening. We’re willing to work our hardest this year and we’re going to keep coming back."

Torr said he was encouraged to see strong grassroots support for the bill again this year.

“That’s really what’s going to be required to get legislators to move on this, I think, is hearing form a lot of constituents, that they really want this,” Torr said.

Torr said the short session this year also was not a good portent for the legislation. Short sessions of the general assembly last about 10 weeks. In odd-numbered, non-election years, lawmakers meet for four months.

“It moves very quick,” Torr said. “There is still time to pass legislation next year and still have it operating in time for the next redistricting.”

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