POLITICS

Ohio Senate wants to change redistricting process

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- State senators on Thursday cast largely symbolic votes supporting a bipartisan plan to change the way Ohio draws political maps.

The Senate passed the measure almost unanimously on the last voting day of the General Assembly. The House did not act on the resolution, which is aimed at overhauling the frequently criticized system for redrawing district boundaries. That means debate on the idea will start anew in the next legislative session.

The proposal would change the state constitution to create a seven-member commission that would draw state legislative and U.S. congressional lines. Approval of the boundaries would require the vote of five members, including at least one minority party member.

Both chambers' approval of the resolution would have sent the issue to the voters to decide.

State Sen. Keith Faber, who's slated to become Senate president next year, apologized to the House for getting the plan to the chamber too late.

"We don't expect you to vote on this this session," said Faber, a Celina Republican. "But we do expect you to work with us next session to start with this template and get the job done."

Faber was among a group of four senators -- two from each political party -- who came up with the plan.

"The current scenario for how we draw lines is not sustainable," Sen. Frank LaRose, a Fairlawn Republican, told his colleagues.

The state alters legislative and U.S. House district boundaries every 10 years to reflect population shifts. New maps recently were put in place for this year's elections.

The Ohio Legislature currently approves U.S. House lines, while the five-member apportionment board is responsible for adopting new state legislative districts. Apportionment board members include the governor, secretary of state, auditor, and Republican and Democratic legislative leaders.

Last year's mapmaking wasn't without conflict.

Democrats, who hold minorities in both state legislative chambers and on the apportionment board, sued over state legislative boundaries and lost their case. They argued the district lines were gerrymandered to favor the GOP. And the U.S. House lines were in limbo last year until legislators had to compromise to avoid holding two primaries.

Voters rejected a ballot proposal to revise Ohio's redistricting process in November. But LaRose said the issue failed because of flaws, not because people didn't want to see the process change.

"Folks believe we can do better," he said in an interview.

State Sen. Nina Turner, a Cleveland Democrat, said she hopes the measure's passage tells voters that "we understand that the way the lines were drawn this time were not right."

Passage of the proposal drew praise from the state's elections chief, who has long advocated for changes to the map-making process.

"Today's vote was a positive sign that momentum for reform is alive in the legislature," Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, said in a written statement.

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