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Iowa lawmakers exploring options for role in redistricting
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Iowa lawmakers exploring options for role in redistricting

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

DES MOINES — Iowa lawmakers are in discussions — among themselves and with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office — to determine what, if any, role they will play in drawing congressional and legislative districts to reflect population changes over the past 10 years.

The U.S. Census Bureau has informed states that it will deliver data needed for the redistricting process Sept. 30 — 29 days after the deadline for the Iowa Legislature to approve new maps of congressional districts and 150 legislative districts. If it misses the deadline, the state Supreme Court takes responsibility for redistricting.

However, House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, hasn’t given up on the possibility lawmakers will play their role in the process that has been held up as a model of nonpartisan redistricting.

“We’re not going to just jump to a conclusion in February that we will not have it,” Grassley said Thursday about the census data.

The Sept. 30 delivery date is six months later than the Census Bureau’s typical release, which it previously pushed out to July 30 because of delays in gathering census data. Ten years ago, the Legislative Services Agency, which draws the maps for legislative approval, was crafting the first plan and lawmakers approved it April 14.

Democratic legislative leaders have expressed concern that Republicans, who control both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office, might try to approve maps giving them advantage in elections for the next 10 years.

“No, of course, it’s not a good thing, that we’re not able to go through the normal process on this,” Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said.

Drawing legislative maps probably is not an area of “core competence” for the Supreme Court, he said. If it falls to the court, “legislative leaders would certainly urge the court to use the services of Ed Cook and the Legislative Services Agency.”

Cook is a senior legal counsel for the Legislative Services Agency and has been involved in two previous redistricting processes.

House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, who blamed the delay on the “incompetence” of the Trump administration, expressed confidence that the court would draw legislative boundaries “not influenced by politics.”

“Our premise is that these districts need to be drawn fairly ... that we have voters picking the politicians, not politicians picking their voters,” he said.

The Temporary Redistricting Advisory Committee, which has four members appointed by legislative leaders, is scheduled to meet Monday to pick a fifth member.

Its job is to provide advice to the Legislative Services Agency, conduct public hearings on the agency’s plan and make a recommendation to the Legislature.

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