Wednesday, January 05, 2011

House Democrats say they may go above, beyond transparency requirements in redistricting bill

The Illinois House on Tuesday approved SB 3976, a redistricting proposal which would require lawmakers to hold a mere four public hearings before they can draw and approve a new district map for the next decade. The 67-46 vote in the House sends the legislation to Gov. Quinn for his consideration.

As ICPR did in November, we testified on the bill in committee to ask the House to amend the legislation to mandate more opportunities for public involvement.

Although our call to amend the bill was unsuccessful, the legislation's House sponsor, Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, said the four public meetings required by the legislation should be considered a "floor, not a ceiling." Lawmakers may choose to hold more public hearings than those mandated by SB 3976, Currie said.

We'll have more on the bill and the vote later, but for now, check out our testimony on SB 3976, which we delivered to the House Executive Committee on Monday, Jan. 3.

Statement by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
Concerning Senate Bill 3976

Delivered by Whitney Woodward
To members of the Illinois House Executive Committee
January 3, 2011

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is a non-partisan, non-profit, public interest group that researches and advocates for transparency and accountability in government and politics, and for more than a year, we have been active on the redistricting issue.

Although earlier efforts to make substantial changes in the redistricting process through a Constitutional amendment were unsuccessful, there still is an opportunity to improve transparency and public participation in the redistricting process through legislation.

Unfortunately, Senate Bill 3976, as currently written, would not ensure that Illinoisans are given a meaningful opportunity to participate and monitor the process by suggesting maps, commenting on drafts, and proposing improvements to such proposals. This bill should be amended to make certain Illinoisans have the ability to participate in the redistricting process.

The minority voting rights changes contained in SB 3976 are improvements, and ICPR does support that section of the legislation.

However, the section on transparency is weak. As currently written, SB 3976 would require the House and Senate to hold four committee hearings -- either jointly, or separately -- across the state, after Census data have been delivered to Illinois. These four hearings would be to "receive testimony and inform the public on the applicable existing districts."

There is no requirement that the public have an opportunity to review and comment on maps after the committee approves a plan and before a vote of the House and Senate.

That is troubling. Public comments and public involvement are needed to look toward future, not retrospective, maps.

In each of the last three redistricting cycles, there has been limited public dialogue during the map-drawing process. Not surprisingly, an increasingly cynical public has voiced concerns about the resulting maps, and rightfully so. They look at a map of the state’s districts, see dozens of funny-shaped districts, and question why those borders were placed there.

It doesn't have to be this way. You can provide for an open redistricting process which allows for the public to monitor lawmakers' deliberations on a new map and propose improvements to draft maps under consideration. Indeed, the General Assembly must provide for such opportunities if it hopes to demonstrate to the public that the redistricting process isn’t being used to serve political goals at the expense of the public interest.

Senate Bill 3976 should be amended to include the transparency requirements contained in Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 121. That proposal required Census data and map-drawing tools to be made available to the public, who could submit draft maps for consideration, in addition to requiring public hearings both before and after district drafts were created.

The language in SJRCA 121 guaranteed that the public would have an opportunity to participate in and watchdog the map-drawing process, and that commitment to transparency should be retained in SB 3976.

Several newspapers throughout Illinois have editorialized in support of improving the transparency provisions of SB 3976. Copies of those editorials have been submitted to committee members with ICPR’s testimony.

ICPR asks the committee to amend the bill to mandate that Illinois residents be given an opportunity to draw maps and to comment and propose improvements to proposed districts.

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