Smith defends redistricting stance

DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIRMAN ACCUSES LAWMAKER OF BLOCKING LEGISLATION

Petitions containing thousands of signatures that endorse an independent redistricting commission for the state of Indiana were delivered to the office of State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, at the Statehouse on Wednesday.

After stating the petition circulated by the Indiana Democratic Party was signed by 3,474 Hoosiers, party chairman John Zody accused Smith, who chairs the House Elections and Apportionment Committee, of blocking any redistricting legislation from receiving a hearing.

“One politician shouldn’t be able to shut down progress on redistricting reform,” Zody stated in a news release. “That’s exactly what Rep. Smith is doing.”

But Smith said Zody and the Democrats are trying to force him into rescheduling bills at a time when deadlines and procedures make it impossible to do so.

If lawmakers are hesitant to take action, it’s because there are currently eight cases involving redistricting that are expected to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, and Indiana will have to follow whatever new subsequent guidelines emerge, Smith said.

A decision on one of those cases involving the state of Wisconsin is expected by June.

If a redistricting decision is made in the General Assembly now, it could conflict with court guidelines that lawmakers won’t be able to address until early next year, Smith said.

Smith prefers to wait until the Supreme Court makes its decision in the Wisconsin case before a summer study committee begins considering changes for Indiana, he said.

The nation’s highest court has been asked to decide whether to uphold a federal three-judge panel’s determination that Wisconsin’s map violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and First Amendment’s right to freedom of association.

It’s the first time a federal court has made such a determination in 30 years.

In February 2017, Smith received similar criticism for refusing to allow a committee vote on the establishment of an independent commission. The proposed legislation, Smith contended last year, was flawed.

The actual act of redrawing Indiana’s congressional and statehouse districts won’t take place until 2021. However, State Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, said legal challenges are inevitable no matter what state lawmakers do or don’t do.

That realization by both lawmakers and political groups has prompted immediate efforts at redistricting reform with expectations of extensive court delays ahead, Walker said.

Have your say

The final Third House legislative session of the season will be Monday and March 5. The hour-long forums, which give residents a chance to express their concerns to their state lawmakers, begin at 7:30 a.m. each at Mill Race Center, 900 Lindsey St.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.