House gives final approval to independent redistricting commission changes

Utah Congressional Districts Map

Utah will have a new independent redistricting commission next year.

The Utah House passed SB200, 67-4, Wednesday and it now goes to GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, who has said he will sign it.

The vote ends over a year of GOP leaders’ negotiations with Better Boundaries, whose independent redistricting commission citizen initiative petition passed in November 2018.

As first reported, negotiations broke down with Better Boundaries this session, but were revived by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, the sponsor of SB200 — and a final agreement was reached when the commission was given more detailed standards that they — and they alone, not the Legislature — should meet in redrawing U.S. House, legislative, and State School Board boundaries in 2021 after this year’s federal Census.

The passage of SB200 means that all three 2018 citizen initiatives have been changed by the Legislature — to the displeasure of some pro-initiative citizens who didn’t want the Legislature to mess with what voters approved.

Just two days after the medical marijuana petition took effect in December 2018, a special session of the Legislature changed it, with agreement of the petition filers, as move supported by the LDS Church, which opposed the original petition.

In the 2019 Legislature, GOP lawmakers changed the Medicaid expansion voter-approved petition in an attempt to control costs to the state. That change required waivers from the Trump administration, which were later denied. So, according to the changed law, full Medicaid expansion did take place, but with some work-related requirements (not in the petition).

Now the Better Boundaries petition has been changed — but support from the petitioners and votes from Republicans and Democrats.

SB200 main parts:

— The Legislature must be presented the independent commission’s maps, but don’t have to vote on them.

— The seven-member commission will be appointed in the same bipartisan manner as the petition.

— The chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court will NOT have any part in the redistricting process, as the petition originally stated.

— There is no right of private citizen lawsuits if the Legislature ultimately adopts maps different from the commission’s, which Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, said would cause chaos in the court system.

— The commission, in drawing its maps, can’t take into account any partisan makeup of areas or districts or partisan voting patterns.

— As stated in the Utah Constitution, the Legislature will make final decisions on map-drawing, but can now deviate up to 10 percent of population in individual districts — a much broader flexibility than has been given to the Legislature’s own redistricting commission in the past, ensuring that rural districts, especially in the 75 House districts, can keep connected counties and cities and towns in more reasonable districts.