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Iowa Dems ‘hopeful’ GOP will follow nonpartisan tradition in drawing political boundaries

Iowa Dems ‘hopeful’ GOP will follow nonpartisan tradition in drawing political boundaries

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The Iowa State Capitol building Friday, July 31, 2020, in Des Moines.

Iowa Democratic leaders are “hopeful and cautiously optimistic” that Iowa will maintain its tradition of redrawing legislative and congressional lines in a nonpartisan fashion.

“It’s not Democrats who are calling for fair maps. It’s Iowans who are calling for fair maps,” House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst of Windsor Heights said Thursday. “That’s who wants this. That’s who deserves this.”

However, the ultimate decision whether the process remains nonpartisan will be up to Republicans, who have the legislative majority, Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls of Coralville, told reporters during a virtual news conference.

Based on the 2020 census, new boundaries will be drawn for 50 Iowa Senate and 100 Iowa House districts as well as four U.S. House districts based on criteria established in the U.S. and Iowa constitutions and state law.

The goal, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, which will draw the maps, is to make the districts as close to equal in population as possible. Any deviation greater than 1% must be justified by the Legislature.

The process

Republicans say they’re not planning to change the law that puts the process of drawing the boundaries in the hands of the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

“I look forward to following the nationally recognized, nonpartisan process established in Iowa Code Chapter 42 to create congressional and legislative districts for the next decade,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said about the process.

“That’s good,” Wahls said, but he would prefer a stronger commitment from the GOP “that they will not offer any partisan amendments to our process. That hasn’t happened yet, so I’m still I’m still concerned.”

The Legislative Services Agency plans to release the first map by Sept. 16.

The Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission has two weeks from then to gather public input before recommending a plan to the Legislature, which must wait three days before taking an up-or-down vote on it.

The commission has scheduled three virtual hearings — 7 to 9:30 p.m. Sept. 20; noon to 3 p.m. Sept. 21; and 6 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 22 — to gather input from the public. It plans to reconvene Sept. 23 to begin work on its recommendation to legislators.

If lawmakers approve the first plan, it will go to the governor for her signature. If rejected, the Legislative Services Agency will draw another map that again is subject to a yes-or-no vote without any changes. If rejected, the agency draws a third that can be amended by lawmakers.

Supreme Court rile

What’s unknown, Wahls said, is what role the Iowa Supreme Court will play.

Because of census delays, the current timeline does not does comply with the constitutional requirement for the Legislature to approve a plan by Sept. 1 and for the plan to be enacted by Sept. 15. After that, the Iowa Constitution shifts redistricting to the court.

In April, the court issued a statement saying it “tentatively plans to meet its constitutional responsibility by implementing a process which permits, to the extent possible, the redistricting framework presently set forth in Iowa Code chapter 42 to proceed after Sept. 15.”

“There’s not a lot of clarity around that, in part, because the court has not really laid out their view or vision of how this is going to proceed under their authority,” he said.

Wahls expects the court to allow the Legislature to approve a plan in an October special session, “but we don’t know that for sure.”

For more information on the hearings, visit legis.iowa.gov/committees/meetings/meetingsListComm?groupID=587&ga=89. Comments can be submitted online until the conclusion of the last hearing.

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