House, Senate GOP can't agree on congressional maps, postpone session
Jeffrey D. Allred
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah House and Senate Republicans reached an impasse late Tuesday night and put off setting new congressional district boundaries until later this month.
GOP lawmakers, who hold the majority in both bodies, spent much of the day behind closed doors in the hope they could agree on a map on Day 2 of a special legislative session. But instead, they ended up with five or six proposals.
They decided to recess until Oct. 17. On Friday at 9 a.m., the Legislature's Redistricting Committee will meet to consider at least some of the proposals that had yet to be made public late Tuesday.
"The fix is not in. We're taking time. We don't have agreement yet," House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, told reporters shortly before the House agreed after 10 p.m. to adjourn for nearly two weeks.
Lockhart said the House Republicans were divided over a number of proposals. "There are so many maps out there," she said. "We're not close."
As she spoke, a few dozen protesters prompted by postings on social media sites had gathered at the Capitol to call for a more open process.
"We don't want to rush this. We want to do the right thing," the speaker said. "What the concern was that we allow the public to continue to be involved."
Monday, the Senate approved the same map passed by the Redistricting Committee last week, anticipating House members would make some changes.
"What they're talking about isn't a modification," Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said. "It's a complete rewrite."
Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said he was disappointed an agreement wasn't reached after six months of hearings and discussion and the two-day legislative session.
"I thought we were moving toward something we could agree on," said Okerlund, redistricting committee co-chairman.
Moments before GOP senators announced the two-week break, Democrats complained that Republicans drew new maps in secret with the intention of passing them without public scrutiny.
"We do not think it is right. We do not think it is fair," said Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Salt Lake. "We don't want to be voting on any maps that have not had a public hearing."
Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, sounded relieved that there would be time for more discussion. "This is exactly what we were hoping would occur," he said.
Earlier Tuesday, competing proposals from both bodies failed to advance from the Redistricting Committee during a meeting that at times turned confrontational.
A tense moment came when Lockhart accused a member of the Utah Democratic Lawyers Council of trying to chill the debate by discussing the Democratic Party's potential lawsuit.
Senate Republicans backed a proposal from Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake, billed as a compromise and competitive map for Democrats. Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis told the Deseret News that the party would be willing to drop its threatened lawsuit if that map were passed.
But the House is supporting another alternative that surfaced publicly late Monday after being endorsed privately by the House GOP caucus. Dabakis labeled the House GOP's preferred map, drawn by Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George, "diabolical" and said it has been engineered just to disenfranchise Democratic voters.
Ipson's map keeps the 2nd District, now represented by the state's lone Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, largely the same but does eliminate a portion of Salt Lake County.
McAdams' map moved the 2nd District to include portions of Salt Lake and Davis counties and all of Morgan and Rich counties, to meet the Republican requirement that all districts are a mix of urban and rural voters.
There was testimony in favor of giving the public more time to look at the maps during Tuesday's committee meeting. More than 100 protesters rallied at the Capitol on Monday urging legislators to treat voters fairly.
Lawmakers must meet after the census every 10 years to redraw congressional, legislative and State School Board boundaries to reflect population shifts. The 2010 Census gave Utah a new fourth seat in Congress.
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