NEWS

Legislative district battle will continue after Senate OKs amendment

John Guidroz

Narrow Senate approval for giving voters another option for drawing legislative districts means the biggest test could be next.

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

Now it's in the House, where at least one Republican vote is needed for its approval. And that could be difficult after a long partisan battle over the important issue.

Currently, the Legislature and the governor have the first stab at drawing the maps, and it goes to a commission if that falls short. Often, the party that wins the power gets its name drawn out of a hat.

The proposed amendment, pushed by Chicago Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul, would let the Legislature and the governor draw the maps first, and then the House and Senate could draw maps for their own chambers.

A special commission and then a special master appointed by the Supreme Court would take over the task if deadlock persists. And if that doesn't work, it would go back to the Legislature for another run.

Democrats argue this route is better because it ends the luck-of-the-draw system and affords more public input on the map-drawing process. But the GOP argues it has a fatal flaw - allowing lawmakers to draw districts and, in essence, pick who votes for them.

Raoul said he expects House Republicans to support his measure after a similar redistricting amendment received bipartisan support in 2008. House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 44 received 98 yes votes and 10 no votes before being stalled in the Senate.

Raoul said House lawmakers who approved the 2008 measure should approve his amendment unless they "are going to be hypocritical or partisan." He said the only difference between the two amendments was that his allowed for "additional transparency and public participation."

But Rep. Mike Fortner, R-West Chicago, argues that the 2008 measure gave the House and Senate the first try at drawing their own districts before going to a commission. Fortner voted in favor of the earlier proposal.

"I think that's clearly a major discrepancy to say we're going to give the legislature two different shots at drawing the map," he said of Raoul's measure. "To me, that's a wrong direction."

Fortner said Raoul should have introduced the amendment earlier in the session to allow for more discussion. Raoul said he wanted to get enough public input before introducing the measure.

A redistricting measure that would have a special commission draw the maps, backed by the two Republican legislative leaders, failed to get out of a Senate redistricting committee earlier this week.

Raoul said he "absolutely" expects House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago to call the amendment for a House vote. Steve Brown, spokesman for the House Democrats, said Madigan "supports the bill."

John Guidroz can be reached at 217-782-6882 or John.guidroz@sj-r.com.

THE BILL

A closer look at Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 121, pushed by Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago:

- Allows the Legislature and the governor to draw the legislative district maps, which requires majority approval in both chambers.

- If that doesn't work, the House and Senate can draw their own maps, which require supermajority votes in both chambers.

- After that, the four legislative leaders appoint a 10-member commission to review the maps. If the commission fails, the top two Supreme Court justices appoint a "special master" to draw the maps.

- If that fails, the issue goes back to the Legislature.