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Redistricting bill would have Md. get in line

ANNAPOLIS — Changes to how Maryland’s congressional districts are drawn may likely be dependent on what a group of other states also decide to do.

The Maryland Senate is expected to hold a preliminary vote on a bill that would establish the framework for a compact with five other states — New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia — that would require each state to create its own independent commission before Maryland would use the new method to redraw congressional lines. The states would have until 2032 to join with Maryland in the compact before the bill expires.

The bill, supported by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., differs from a plan proposed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan that would allow the state to move forward on its own. Without the legislation, Hogan would be responsible for drawing the districts if he is reelected in 2018.

“The one thing that we know is that redistricting and gerrymandering is a national problem that really requires a national solution,” said Sen. Craig Zucker, D-Montgomery and sponsor of Senate Bill 1023. “But we haven’t seen the leadership we need on this on the federal level so we can try to do it nationally but that doesn’t seem to be moving.”

Zucker said he had not seen evidence that other states were looking to unilaterally change their respective redistricting laws.

“This really presents an opportunity for Maryland to take the lead,” Zucker said, adding “this is an opportunity for the Old Line State to work with other colleagues to wipe out the lines and redraw them.”

Nationally, six  states — Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, New Jersey, and Washington — use some form of an independent commission to redraw congressional districts.

Zucker’s bill appears to be the best chance this year an making any changes to how districts are redrawn.

A bill proposed by Hogan that would have created an independent commission in Maryland was rejected in committee.

Angry Republicans Tuesday including Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford Counties and Senate minority leader, criticized Zucker’s bill and called it a joke.

“It’s our state, it’s our lines, why do we care what another state does with their’s?” said Jennings. “Why can’t we just fix our problem here in Maryland?

“I’m trying to be polite here but it’s a sales pitch,” Jennings added. “This has nothing to do with Maryland redistricting. You’re kicking the ball, the can down the road until another state does something.”

Jennings was joined in opposing the bill by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause Maryland.

“We understand the desire to wait to act in Maryland until more states across the country have depoliticized their redistricting processes,” the organizations said in a joint statement. “But we firmly believe Marylanders deserve fair representation now, and that Maryland should not wait for other states before acting.”

Meanwhile, Maryland’s current redistricting plan approved in 2011 continues to face challenges in federal court.

A three-judge federal panel last week ordered Busch, Miller, Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery and a number of members of the commission that redrew the districts to testify and provide documents.

Busch and Miller had attempted to assert legislative privilege in a lawsuit in which the plaintiffs claim the redrawing of the 6th Congressional District violated their First Amendment rights.

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