As the deadline looms to redraw state legislative districts for the next decade, Illinois House Republicans are making a last-ditch effort to take the process out of the hands of lawmakers and place the onus on a new independent commission.
The Illinois Supreme Court has twice struck down independent redistricting amendments to the state constitution, most recently in 2016 on a narrow 4-3 partisan split.
A similar remapping proposal failed to make the ballot last November.
But State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, now said he wants to create an independent, 11-person redistricting commission via statute in time for the next round of legislative remapping later this year.
"This gives us an opportunity going into veto session, to put this on the books, to pass something quickly, to hold the governor's feet to the fire in his promise to enact fair maps, and to hold accountable the other members of the General Assembly," Butler said.
Butler said he plans to introduce the bill as soon as Tuesday.
"We are seeking another option," added state Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria. "And that is through legislation, to make the changes necessary to bring some element of independence into the mapmaking process."
House Republicans claim their latest bid to revoke lawmaker remapping powers stems from a bid for more fairness, and is not an attempt to elect more Republicans to the General Assembly. Currently, the GOP holds superminorities in both chambers.
"This disregarding of village and township lines disadvantages the residents of these villages," said state Rep. Jackie Haas, R-Kankakee. "It's inexplicable that someone who lives in Momence can be represented by someone who lives in the area, but someone across the street from them cannot. Unfortunately, this example is not the only case."
Butler said his own district is one such example, with Republican voters packed into his district to give Democrats better chances in adjoining districts.
"You can't use it (data) to draw your boundaries, pack Republicans or Democrats into a particular district," he said.
Both Spain and Butler said the bill would adhere to the federal Voting Rights Act's requirements to ensure fair racial and ethnic representation.
Butler believes there are enough Republican and Democratic votes in the House to potentially move the legislation forward--if the 32 Democrats still serving today who supported the 2016 amendment join with all 44 House Republicans. And they believe their chances may be emboldened by the 19 House Democrats who are publicly opposing House Speaker Mike Madigan's latest bid to lead the chamber.
"I think that the spirit of bipartisanship can be reignited in Illinois," said Spain.
The General Assembly is tasked with formulating new legislative maps for the next decade by June. The U.S. Census is expected to release updated population data soon to guide state legislatures nationwide through the remapping process.