Reform group proposes new way to draw legislative districts

Members of the Rhode Island House stand for the Pledge of Allegiance on the first day of the 2020 legislative session, January 7, 2020. File photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

By WPRO News and The Associated Press 

A government reform group in Rhode Island is trying to change the way legislative district lines are drawn in the state after the census.

Common Cause Rhode Island is asking state lawmakers to support a constitutional amendment to create an independent redistricting commission, rather than continuing to allow the legislature to create the commission and fill most seats with incumbent legislators.

“We want to reform how they’re going to draw the districts because we’ve seen over the last half century that they’ve abused that power, so we don’t think they deserve to have the power to draw those districts, we think ordinary Rhode Islanders should,” said Common Cause Executive Director John Marion.

Legislation proposing the change has been introduced by Democratic lawmakers and co-sponsored by Republican leaders.

Democrats overwhelmingly dominate Rhode Island’s legislature, and Marion admits it would not be easy.

Common Cause says they’ve historically used the redistricting process to build upon their partisan advantage.

“It’s difficult to get the legislature to give up its own power, it’s enjoyed this power for centuries, but it’s not an impossible task,” said Marion, citing efforts in previous years to enact so-called “separation of powers” to remove lawmakers from state boards and commissions in the 1990’s, and restoring jurisdiction of the state Ethics Commission over lawmakers in 2016.

He said a campaign to enact a constitutional change dubbed “Redraw Rhode Island” would be announced this week, with lawmakers and others signing a pledge to end gerrymandering.

 

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