Redistricting bill passes Senate committee

By Amari Thompson
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS—A Senate committee approved a redistricting reform bill Monday that would establish standards to redraw congressional and state legislative boundaries across Indiana.

Sen. Greg Walker, R- Columbus, said Senate Bill 326 is a baby step toward redistricting reform. It passed the Elections Committee by an 8-0 vote.

Julia Vaughn testifies over redisctricitng in front of the senate election committee.
Photo by Tanner Nicholson,
TheStatehouseFile.com

Voters and organizations such as Common Cause of Indiana, Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Coalition for Independent Redistricting, attended the hearing in support of the bill.

SB 326 also allows the General Assembly to modify congressional and state district plans if they fail to comply with the standards in the bill—as long as the reasoning is documented and explained publicly.

In describing the bill, Walker noted that Indiana has had a history of gerrymandering in recent years and said he is not certain whether that was intentional.

Walker said the greatest challenge redistricting reform faced last year was what organization would be drawing the maps. SB 326 does not address that issue.

“The argument should not be about who it is that draws the maps,” said Walker. “The argument should be about is there a way for the voters in the state to have confidence that the maps are not politically influenced.”

Lobbyists for the redisctricitng bill wore stickers to represent their cause they are supporting.
Photo by Tanner Nicholson,
TheStatehouseFile.com

Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause of Indiana, said the bill would be strengthened if Walker added an amendment that made it clear that no individual or political party should influence the drawing of the districts.

“All of the criteria named in Senate Bill 326 are focused on the public interest,” Vaughn said. “Communities are more than just political subdivisions.”

Many people, like Vaughn, Sen. Timothy Lanane, D-Anderson, and Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, encouraged Walker to add amendments to make the policies in the bill clearer.

However, Walker refused to allow amendments. The bill now moves to the Senate floor for further review.

The committee also passed a bill 6-3 to allow minority parties easier access to the ballot.

Senate Bill 328 lowers the minimum vote a minority party needs in order to qualify for the ballot in the next election. The amount now is 2 percent and will be lowered to 0.5 percent in 2019.

The bill eliminates the word “major” party and the bill requires all political parties to follow this bill.

Amanda Shepherd, chair of the Indiana Green Party, testified in support of the bill. She said the Green Party is in full support and said in current practice not even major political parties can meet the 2 percent requirement in their elections.

 Amari Thompson is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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