Redistricting reform to wait for later

By Nicole Milstead | Daily Herald Staff

Published: 5/16/2009

SPRINGFIELD - Members of an ethics reform commission say lawmakers should come back to the Capitol later this year to focus on fixing the state's political mapmaking process.

Brad McMillan, who was appointed to the commission by Gov. Pat Quinn, said he'd talked to Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno and Senate President John Cullerton in addition to Quinn about a special session in September "that will focus exclusively on redistricting and getting it right."

Overhauling Illinois' complex and almost comical process for setting legislative boundaries after each census has been the target of many reformers over the years. Currently, if there's no agreement on how the maps should be drawn, a name is pulled out of a hat to give one party or the other the ability to draw the map.

Winning that draw can help Republicans or Democrats tweak a boundary here or there to make it easier for their members to get elected.

"We know that there are constitutional questions. We know there are federal legal questions, but the current system we have right now is no way to serve the interests of the people of the state of Illinois," McMillan said.

The commission has suggested redistricting by computer on a nonpartisan basis in the same way Iowa does.

But creating that system is a massive undertaking and one that also requires a constitutional amendment. That amendment would go before voters next year so lawmakers have some time to work on the issue as their spring session is drawing to a close and in addition to ethics, they have a nearly $12 billion budget hole to fill. Plus, they face the question of whether to raise state taxes.

State Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Brook Democrat involved in ethics negotiations, said lawmakers already planned a series of hearings in the coming months on redistricting.

A spokeswoman for Cullerton said the discussion so far had been about "special hearings" as opposed to calling lawmakers back to a session, which can cost taxpayers thousands of dollars a day.

Lawmakers had hoped to start voting on some of the reforms where there is widespread agreement, but final drafts in legal form have not been finished, so those votes are expected later next week.

Daily Herald Senior State Government Editor John Patterson contributed to this report.

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