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Better Boundaries launches initiative to create independent redistricting commission

Better Boundaries launches initiative to create independent redistricting commission

(Deseret News, File Photo)


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SALT LAKE CITY — A initiative was filed Thursday that would create a bipartisan independent commission to recommend new legislative and congressional district boundaries to lawmakers during the once-a-decade redistricting process.

"With the way the process works in Utah today and has been working, so many people feel disenfranchised, that their vote doesn't count," said Ralph Becker, co-chairman of Better Boundaries and a former Democratic Salt Lake City mayor.

The other co-chairman of the initiative drive, Republican Jeff Wright, said change is needed even though the GOP holds a supermajority in the Utah Legislature, as well as the state's U.S. House and Senate seats.

"Both parties are guilty," Wright said. "And I think the current system is very corrosive. This is a bipartisan effort to empower, to keep communities together and to have more responsive government."

After the census occurs every 10 years, it's up to the Utah Legislature to redraw legislative and congressional districts to reflect population shifts. The initiative would set up an independent commission to propose new boundaries.

Lawmakers would be required to vote on the proposal from the seven-member commission, appointed by the governor and legislative leaders of both parties. If lawmakers reject the proposal, they must produce a written explanation.

Redistricting standards set by the initiative include prioritizing municipal over county boundaries, preserving communities of interest and traditional neighborhoods, and a prohibition on using partisan data and incumbent addresses.

The initiative was filed Thursday morning with the lieutenant governor's office. Once it has been approved to advance, Better Boundaries will have to hold at least seven public hearings around the state before circulating the petitions.

Backers will have to collect more than 113,000 voter signatures from at least 26 of the 29 state Senate districts by next April to qualify for a place on the November 2018 ballot.

There are already two initiative drives underway: Our Schools Now seeks to raise state income and sales tax rates to bring in more money for education; and the Utah Patients Coalition wants to legalize the use of medical marijuana.

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Lisa Riley Roche

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