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Lawmakers Set To Try Again For Bipartisan Redistricting Reform (Part 1)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 9:14 AM

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The budget may top the agenda for state lawmakers. But another issue is still on lawmakers' radar - whether and how to change change the way the maps that create boundaries for state and federal lawmakers are drawn - especially after the latest maps sparked widespread criticism, legal action and a failed ballot issue. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler has the first of a two-part series on what's happening with redistricting in Ohio.

Ohio lawmakers have been talking for decades about changing the way the maps for lawmakers’ districts are drawn. The state’s elections chief says it’ll stop soon.

HUSTED:  “I believe 2013 is going to be the year that we finally get a bipartisan redistricting resolution passed in Ohio. I really do.”

Husted said that last month – not long after new Senate president Keith Faber offered this to members of the House regarding a resolution on redistricting that had passed that chamber almost unanimously in December.

FABER:  “We do expect you to work with us next session, to start with this template and get the job done.”

Part of the reason is the renewed debate about redistricting is Issue 2 from last fall’s ballot. While that redistricting amendment was roundly panned, nearly everyone agreed there was a problem that needed to be addressed.

But another reason for the current discussion is that bipartisan resolution on redistricting that passed the Senate in December.  That resolution would have created a seven member commission to draw maps, and maps drawn by that commission would have to have the support of at least one member of the minority party. At a forum on redistricting last month at the City Club of Cleveland one of the bill’s sponsors - Republican Sen. Frank LaRose of Copley - talked about a controversial idea that could be incorporated in a redistricting plan to deal with lawmakers who can’t agree on the maps.

LAROSE:  “For that 10 years under which those maps are in effect – we would not have partisan primaries in the state of Ohio. Essentially it could be a Republican and a Democrat or two Republicans that would advance to the general election – we would go with non-partisan primaries in the state of Ohio. Now that’s something that both parties are a little leery of.”

But that incentive toward resolving disputes – what LaRose calls a “sword of Damocles” – was not included in the resolution that passed.

On stage alongside LaRose was Democratic Rep. Mike Curtin of Columbus, a former executive with the Columbus Dispatch and a longtime critic of the redistricting process. Curtin noted that while Democrats changing the process, there’s not much they can do about it.

CURTIN:  “Whatever’s going to happen in each chamber is going to happen because there’s Republican leadership. Hopefully because we’re in the run-up now to the 2014 statewide elections, there will be an inducement on the part of folks in the executive branch and legislative branch to show some bipartisan bonafides.”

If a change in redistricting is proposed, voters will have to approve it. And there seems to be a split approach developing among the Republicans who lead the House and Senate. A resolution on redistricting has been proposed in the Senate, but House Speaker Bill Batchelder continues to say that the matter will be dealt with in the Constitutional Modernization Commission, a 32 member bipartisanship panel that can advise and recommend legislation, but not enact it.

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