Subscribe for 33¢ / day

INDIANAPOLIS | Besides crafting the state's 2012-13 budget, the other "must do" for state lawmakers this year is supposed to be redrawing legislative district boundaries.

Every 10 years, following the U.S. census, state and federal legislative districts are remapped based on population shifts to ensure districts across the state each contain roughly the same number of people -- a process known as redistricting.

But like nearly everything else state lawmakers want to accomplish this year, redistricting is imperiled by the House Democrats' monthlong walkout. Without the Democrats in the chamber the House does not have enough members in attendance to take any legislative action, including devising new maps.

As the calendar flips from March to April this week with no resolution in sight, it is becoming less likely the always controversial map-drawing process will be completed by the Legislature's mandatory adjournment date of April 29.

The maps will still be drawn. But if the the General Assembly doesn't do it this year an already complicated and politicized process gets even more complicated and political.

For congressional districts, map-drawing is handed over to a five-member redistricting commission that must set new congressional district boundaries by May 29. Due to Republican control of both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor's office, all five redistricting commission members are Republicans.

That may be one reason former state Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Elkhart, had no qualms about announcing last week a second try to replace U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Granger, in the 2nd Congressional District, even though a map of the new 2nd District doesn't exist.

Donnelly reportedly is considering a run for U.S. Senate or Indiana governor depending on how Republicans reshape his current district.

The district for U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, is unlikely to change much from the current map, to protect Republican congressional incumbents elsewhere in the state.

Indiana law does not mandate state legislative districts be drawn this year as it does for congressional districts.

But delaying map-drawing for Indiana House and Senate districts until the end of the next legislative session in March 2012 would give candidates little time to figure out their new district before the May 2012 primary election.

In addition, the past two state legislative redistrictings have led to partisan walkouts, including a 2001 walkout by House Republicans and a 1991 walkout by Senate Democrats.

Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville, believes Indiana would be better served if an independent redistricting commission drew the maps, rather than the General Assembly.

"It would be a great benefit for voters if the maps were drawn with their best interests in mind, instead of protection of incumbent officials," Simpson said. "Competitive races where voters have a real choice of candidates are best for the democratic process."

Legislation creating an independent redistricting commission died in a Senate committee earlier this year.