Senate narrowly approves redistricting measure

Staff reports

State senators advanced a hotly debated plan to change how legislative districts are drawn, pushed by Democrats as a fairer, more open process but derided as a sham by the GOP.

The Senate voted 36-22 for Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 121, with only Democrats providing the supermajority 36 yes votes needed for passage.

The lengthy debate and partisan vote demonstrated just how divisive the issue is, with both parties looking for an edge in determining how their districts are redrawn after the new census - and providing a big political boost to the victor.

The current system calls for the legislature and governor to agree on a new map of districts, and then it goes to a commission if that falls short. Often, the party that wins the power to draw the map gets its name drawn out of a hat.

Democrats say their new setup - which would authorize a combination of the legislature, a commission and even a special master picked by Supreme Court justices to come to a resolution - will end the current flawed process and provide more openness and public input through required hearings.

"We can leave the days of pulling out of a hat behind us," said Sen. Kwame Raoul, the Chicago Democrat pushing the idea.

But Republicans said the major flaw was still allowing lawmakers to draw their own districts - and thus deciding which voters can pick them, rather than voters picking who represents them at the Capitol. They backed a plan defeated earlier this week that would have turned over map-drawing to a special commission.

"This is an attempt to do as little as possible and not affect who runs this state," said Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville.

The measure's future is uncertain. It now goes to the House, where it will need some Republican support to reach the fall ballot by an early May deadline.

State Capitol Bureau