Bill would take redistricting out of the hands of legislators - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Bill would take redistricting out of the hands of legislators


MADISON (WKOW) -- Freshman Assembly Democrats introduced a bill Thursday which they say would make the state's redistricting process more fair and less expensive.

The bill would take the job away from state legislators and put it in the hands of a non-partisan state agency.

When Republican legislators unveiled newly drawn congressional and legislative districts in 2011, Democrats cried foul.  They said the maps clearly favored the GOP.

A panel of federal judges ultimately upheld all but two of the new Assembly districts, but the partisan rancor over the process sent a clear message to Rep. Mandy Wright (D-Wausau).

"Simply put, we need to remove the partisan politics from the redistricting process, period," said Rep. Wright. 

Rep. Wright's bill would hand the job over to the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau after the 2020 U.S. Census.  That's when the maps are next scheduled to be redrawn.

"Why not put this in place now?", asked Rep. Diane Hesselbein (D-Middleton).  "No one knows what the partisan makeup will be in 2020."

But at least one Republican Assembly leader questions the idea.

"You can take partisan out of the title, but its hard to take partisan out of the people," said Rep. Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha), the Assembly Speaker Pro-Tempore.

Rep. Kramer isn't convinced the Legislative Reference Bureau is necessarily non-partisan.

"So are the Dane County Judges and the GAB," said Rep. Kramer.  When asked if he considered those both be partisan groups, Kramer answered, "They're not non-partisan I'd say."

But the Democrats point to Iowa, which has had a non-partisan redistricting process for over 30 years. Their districts don't have as many odd shapes and the process costs far less than the $2 million Wisconsin has spent on lawyers since 2011.

"The calculation was its something under $1,000 to do the redistricting reform process (in Iowa)," said Jay Heck of Common Cause Wisconsin, who supports the bill.  

Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) and Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) are working on a bi-partisan companion bill in the Senate.

But to pass the bill in the Assembly, Democrats will need at least eleven Republicans to sign on.  The number so far is zero.

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