Senators propose new redistricting amendment

By MARC KOVAC | R-C CAPITAL BUREAU Published:

COLUMBUS -- Sen. Frank LaRose offered an explanation in about 30 seconds.

Sen. Tom Sawyer's background review didn't take much longer.

And thus ended sponsor comments from the floor of the Ohio Senate Thursday on a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way the state redraws its congressional and legislative district lines -- a terse proposal that backers hope will be easier to understand than November's failed state Issue 2.

Senate Joint Resolution 5, sponsored by LaRose, a Republican, and Sawyer, a Democrat, passed on a vote of 32-1.

It was a mostly symbolic gesture, with little chance of final action before the end of the year. But the bipartisan support in the chamber could be a precursor for further action next year, with lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle saying the process needs to change.

"This is important to set the framework, and this is a beginning," said Sen. Nina Turner, a Democrat from Cleveland. "It is certainly not the ending. And it is my hope that, as members of the upper chamber, that we are showing through out vote today that we get it, that we heard the voters, that we respect them, that we understand that the way that the lines were drawn the last time were not right and that we are not going to let what we cannot do get in the way of what we can do."

Incoming Senate President Keith Faber, a Republican from Celina, added to the "naysayers of negativity... The time to act is now, because we can do what's right for Ohio by taking the partisans and the personal out of this redistricting. And that's what I believe this proposal does."

The amendment came a little more than a month after voters rejected another redistricting reform package, offered by Democratic groups unhappy with the legislative lines drawn by Republicans last year.

Both proponents and opponents of that plan urged lawmakers afterward to act on the issue to ensure future district lines were more bipartisan in nature.

Under the plan passed in Senate Thursday, a new seven-member commission would meet in years ending in "1" to draw the state's congressional and legislative districts.

Members would include the governor, secretary of state, auditor and members appointed by majority and minority leaders of the Ohio House and Senate. The latter could not include sitting lawmakers, and plans would require minority party member support.

All of the group's meetings would be open to the public and broadcast, with a "minimum of three public hearings across the state" to accept comments.

Members would be prohibited from drawing lines "with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party."

Districts would have to be compact, with an eye toward keeping political subdivisions intact.

The amendment would require voter approval and would take effect in 2021.

"I firmly believe our proposal is not good for Republicans," LaRose said. "I firmly believe our proposal is not good for Democrats. I firmly believe that our proposal is good for Ohio."

Thursday's passage drew praise from Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, the state's chief elections official.

"Every year we have seen steady progress," Husted said. "In the last general assembly, the Senate passed my redistricting reform plan, and this marks the fourth straight general assembly legislation has been debated to change the system. I am optimistic that Republicans and Democrats can pass a plan next year that will help restore competitiveness and common sense to our political process."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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