INDIANAPOLIS | A plan to reform how Indiana draws its legislative districts, which could determine who gets elected and the policies they pursue, was perhaps the top item the General Assembly failed to act on last month prior to adjourning for the year.
An unusual coalition of House Republicans and Senate Democrats favored redistricting changes that would have, in large part, removed politics from the mandatory once-a-decade process of redrawing legislative boundaries following the U.S. Census to ensure nearly equal population in each state House, Senate and congressional district.
However, the Republican Senate majority killed a redistricting reform plan the Republican-controlled House approved 77-20 in January, by refusing even to hold a committee hearing on the measure that would have minimized the role lawmakers play in picking the people and communities they represent.
That proposal, House Bill 1032, cosponsored by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, would have created a politically independent, five-member commission tasked with drawing district boundaries that the Legislature essentially would have been required to enact into law without changes.
The General Assembly decides on its own how legislative and congressional districts are shaped, with the process controlled entirely by the dominant party in each chamber -- often to its benefit.
For example, the Republican-led 2011 redistricting produced GOP supermajorities in both the House and Senate following the 2012 elections.
Though that's old hat for the Senate, which has been controlled by Republicans since 1978.
Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he sees no reason to change the process for drawing legislative and congressional districts.
"We are extremely proud of the maps we drew in the 2011 redistricting effort, where the process was fair, open, transparent and totally compatible with the recommended guidelines set out by the U.S. Supreme Court," Long said.
Nevertheless, Long is willing to study how Indiana's redistricting process compares to other states, and has promised next year to support legislation creating a "blue ribbon commission" to see if there's a better way.
"We are a state that embraces positive, common-sense ideas, and we should be open to exploring the experiences and outcomes of states who handle redistricting differently than Indiana," Long said.
That's not good enough for state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, who has fought for four years to remove politics from redistricting.
Tallian said she was told in 2010 it was too close to the 2011 redistricting to consider implementing changes. She now fears Senate Republicans are going to keep coming up with delays, such as Long's study committee, trying to run out the clock again ahead of the 2021 redistricting.
"I don't know what we have to do to get a hearing," Tallian said.
Bosma agrees there isn't "a strong sense of interest in the Senate," but said he'll keep pushing for the redistricting changes he's supported for nearly two decades.
He's also not surprised something as complicated as redistricting reform didn't get done during this year's 10-week session of the General Assembly.
"It just made sense for it to go by the wayside this session so we could concentrate on pre-kindergarten, road funding, the business and corporate tax cuts, workforce development and some of the other issues that we had identified as our priorities," Bosma said.