Utah Legislature passes changes to redistricting initiative

In this Feb. 19, 2020, photo, Democratic Rep. Carol Spackman Moss poses for a portrait at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Changes to a voter-approved law aimed at curbing gerrymandering passed the Utah Legislature on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle spoke in favor of the changes, saying the two sides reached a good middle ground after negotiations that Moss said were sometimes heated. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Changes to a voter-approved law aimed at curbing gerrymandering passed the Utah Legislature on Wednesday.

The plan now before Utah Gov. Gary Herbert comes after supporters of the 2018 initiative agreed to a compromise to revise the measure. It creates an independent redistricting commission in hopes of reducing gerrymandering, a process of manipulating voting districts unfairly to gain an advantage.

The bill drops requirements that the GOP-dominated Legislature take an up-or-down vote on redistricting maps developed by the bipartisan commission and provide a formal explanation if it chooses not to adopt them.

Lawmakers have contended that would infringe on their constitutional powers.

The new legislation would also repeal a requirement to use a statistical “partisan symmetry” test to ensure districts do not unduly favor any political party. Critics called that unclear and subjective.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle spoke in favor of the changes, saying the two sides reached a good middle ground after negotiations that Democratic Rep. Carol Spackman Moss said were sometimes heated.

The left-leaning nonprofit Alliance for a Better Utah remained skeptical of the deal, saying it would be less transparent than the voter-approved law.

The proposal would create an independent commission composed of seven members appointed by the governor and legislative leaders. It will formulate redistricting recommendations to share with the Utah Legislature following the U.S. Census, which occurs every 10 years.

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