UtahPolicy.com has learned that leaders for Better Boundaries, the group behind Prop. 4 which established an independent commission to draw Utah’s political boundaries, approached lawmakers earlier this session to discuss possible changes to the voter-approved proposition, but those talks have since stalled.
Multiple legislative sources have confirmed to UtahPolicy.com that representatives for Better Boundaries reached out to legislators in the early stages of the 2019 session to discuss areas in Prop. 4 that lawmakers found problematic and attempt to craft changes that both sides found agreeable.
“They thought we could find some common ground,” said one lawmaker with knowledge of the discussions. “They were hoping to have a negotiated agreement that would be better than what passed in November.”
The anti-gerrymandering measure narrowly won approval, with 50.34% of voters saying “yes” while 49.66% voted “no.” Prop. 4 sets up a 7-person independent redistricting commission to draft maps for congressional and legislative districts during the once-a-decade redistricting process. The proposition tasked the commission to come up with a redistricting plan that the legislature would then either approve or reject. The proposed maps could not favor an incumbent, a candidate or a political party. If lawmakers turned down the maps, they would be required to explain where the commission violated their own guidelines.
Sources said discussions of potential changes centered around two parts of Prop. 2 that lawmakers objected most to. One allowed the filing of a lawsuit by members of the public if the legislature rejected the map proposal from the commission. The other was the requirement that lawmakers had to specify why the maps did not conform to the rules if they rejected them.
“They were receptive and didn’t say either of those were a deal breaker,” said one legislative source.
It’s widely expected that lawmakers will either make changes to Prop. 4, similar to the legislative efforts to pass alternatives to Prop. 2 and Prop. 3, or they could file suit against the new law as Utah’s Constitution specifies the legislature is responsible for redistricting.
In October, lawmakers passed an alternative medical cannabis program that overrode Prop. 2. That plan sprung from negotiations between the original authors of Prop. 2, the LDS Church and other stakeholders.
At the beginning of this session, legislators rushed to approve a scaled-back Medicaid expansion plan to replace Prop. 3.
There have been fears that Prop. 4 would suffer the same fate as Prop. 4 this session. However, lawmakers seem content to wait on any changes for now.
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, confirmed that there had been contact between lawmakers and Better Boundaries, but believes there’s no appetite among his colleagues to address the issue right now.
“The Prop. 4 group reached out a couple of weeks ago to let us know they would like to talk about possible changes,” said Wilson. “But we felt we needed to move on to other issues.”
Wilson says he wouldn’t be surprised if lawmakers decided to take up the issue down the road.
Better Boundaries co-Chair Blake Moore acknowledged discussions between their group and the legislature in an email statement to UtahPolicy.com, but he said there have been no substantive proposals.
“We have not made any specific suggestions to the legislature. Our goal was to have an open dialogue with lawmakers and to monitor the process, which we will continue to do.”