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After 48 hours and no public hearings, Wisconsin Assembly Republicans pass redistricting reform, but likely veto awaits



FILE - More than 100 opponents of the Republican redistricting plans vow to fight the maps at a rally ahead of a joint legislative committee hearing in the Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison, Wis. on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Assembly passed a sweeping redistricting reform plan Thursday that takes the power of drawing maps somewhat out of the hands of lawmakers and gives it to nonpartisan staff.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has all-but promised to veto the bill that he called “bogus,” even though it largely resembled a nonpartisan redistricting plan he’s pushed for years.

Democrats and those pushing for redistricting reform say Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Republicans are being disingenuous by voting on the bill less than 48 hours after introduction with no public hearing and no consultation with groups who have been working on redistricting for years.

“You bring us a half-baked bill with no public input and call it a path forward,” Democratic Rep. Kalan Haywood said in urging opposition.

The Assembly passed the bill 64-32, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in support after a series of amendments were adopted that require bipartisan votes to pass any maps and remove the power for the Legislature to make changes to the maps drawn by nonpartisan staff.

The vote shortly before midnight on the rapidly moving proposal came just two days after Republicans introduced the redistricting bill and got no input from the public.

The drama is playing out amid a continued Republican threat of impeachment against the Supreme Court justice who gave liberals majority control in August if she doesn’t step down from hearing a pair of redistricting lawsuits.

The proposal caught Democrats and advocates for redistricting reform by a surprise in a state widely regarded as having some of the most gerrymandered maps in the country.

The bill must also clear the Republican-controlled Senate and be signed by Evers to become law.

Democrats, suspicious of Republican motives, urged opposition to the proposal, saying it’s all a ruse designed to circumvent the newly liberal-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court from throwing out the Republican-drawn maps.

Republicans urged Democrats to come around and support the measure, which largely mirrored what they had been fighting more than a decade to achieve. Democrats were skeptical and said they didn’t trust any plan put forward by Republicans, who have long fought giving up full control over redistricting.

“You made a promise to people you represent and you have a chance to actually make it happen,” Vos said to Democrats after recounting their long support for nonpartisan redistricting. “It’s a good day today. You should be proud.”

The maps drawn could not favor a political party, incumbent legislator, or other person or group, according to the bill. If the bill becomes law, new maps would have to be drawn by Jan. 31 to be in effect for the 2024 election.

There’s one key difference between what advocates in Wisconsin — including a coalition pushing for redistricting reform — have been calling for.

Under their plans, on the third try of parties not agreeing on maps, it would take a three-fourths majority in the Legislature to pass, essentially ensuring it would require bipartisan support.

Republicans amended the bill Thursday to require that any map passed must have bipartisan votes, but only a simple majority — where the GOP already holds around a two-third majority with gerrymandered maps. Republicans also removed the ability for the Legislature to make changes to the map as forwarded by the nonpartisan staff.

Democrats have pushed for redistricting reform ever since Republicans drew maps in 2011.

Evers introduced a system in 2019 for drawing maps that very closely resembles the Republican bill passed. Under both plans, staff with the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau would be charged with drawing the maps.

Democrats are pinning their hopes on the new liberal-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court ordering that new maps be drawn that are less beneficial for Republicans.

There are two pending lawsuits before the Wisconsin Supreme Court seeking new maps.

Vos has threatened to pursue impeachment against liberal Justice Janet Protasiewicz if she does not recuse herself from those cases because she called the current maps “unfair” and “rigged” during her campaign. Conservatives that led the Supreme Court in 2010 voted down recusal rules for itself.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has not said whether it will hear the redistricting challenges.

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