Assembly panel takes up very different redistricting proposals
June 10, 2007
SACRAMENTO (AP) – The debate over who should have the powerful task of drawing legislative and congressional districts moves to the Assembly this week as a committee takes up two very different plans to create redistricting commissions.
One proposal, by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman Curren Price, D-Inglewood, would give the job to nine members of an obscure government watchdog panel – the Commission on California State Government Organization and Economy. It’s commonly known as the Little Hoover Commission.
The other, by Assembly Minority Leader Mike Villines, R-Clovis, would create an 11-member redistricting commission composed of registered voters picked at random from lists compiled by county and state elections officials. Voters’ service on the commission would be voluntary.
The two constitutional amendments are scheduled to be considered Tuesday by the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee, which Price chairs.
Two other redistricting proposals, one by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, and the other by Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, passed the Senate on Thursday and are awaiting hearings in the Assembly.
The debate over who should draw new congressional and legislative districts after each national census has raged in Sacramento for decades. Critics complain that it’s a conflict of interest for legislators to do the job.
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How the districts are drawn can determine which party dominates the Legislature and California’s delegation to the House of Representatives.
But voters have rejected several attempts over the years to take the task away from the Legislature and give it to a redistricting commission. The latest rejection took place in 2005, when voters turned down an initiative backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Despite that string of defeats and the reluctance of some Democrats to give up their redistricting powers, the issue may be headed for the ballot again in 2008 because of an attempt to modify legislators’ term limits.
An initiative being circulated for the Feb. 5 presidential primary ballot would shorten the overall time lawmakers could serve in the Legislature in most circumstances from 14 to 12 years. At the same time, it would allow more than 40 lame duck lawmakers, including the Legislature’s top leaders, to run for re-election in 2008 or 2010.
Schwarzenegger has signaled that he will not support the change in term limits unless a change in redistricting procedures also is on the February ballot.
That has increased the chances that lawmakers will put a redistricting measure on the ballot – despite significant differences in the four proposals – to avoid a partisan fight that would probably sink the term limits initiative.
“Hopefully we will sit down and reconcile our differences between Democratic versions and Republican versions,” said Nunez. “The fact that everyone wants to get it done is reason for me to be optimistic.”
But Villines is more pessimistic, saying that reaching a deal would be “very difficult.”
“The odds are slim at this point,” he said in an interview Friday. “But we are working closely together.”
Besides differences over the structure of the commission, lawmakers also are debating whether the commission should draw congressional districts or just districts for legislators and the Board of Equalization, a state tax panel.
Here are some of the other issues on lawmakers’ agendas this week:
STATE BUDGET – A committee made up of three lawmakers from each house is trying to draft a state spending plan for the budget year that starts July 1. Lawmakers are supposed to approve that plan by Friday, but it’s a frequently missed deadline.
SPERM CLEANSING – A bill by Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, would allow men with HIV to donate sperm to a willing, HIV-free spouse or other recipient if the sperm has gone through a process to minimize infectiousness. The proposal is on the Assembly Health Committee’s agenda on Tuesday.
CHILD SEATS – Children under age 8 would have to ride in federally approved car seats unless they were at least 4-foot-9-inches tall, under a bill that’s on the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee’s agenda on Tuesday. Current law requires the seats for children who are 6 and younger or who weigh less than 60 pounds. Supporters of the bill by Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-San Francisco, say the current standard doesn’t go far enough in protecting children in highway accidents.
LOW-FLOW TOILETS – A bill by Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, would phase in tougher water efficiency standards for toilets and urinals. The standards would limit toilets to 1.28 gallons per flush, down from 1.6 gallons. Urinals could use a half gallon per flush instead of an average of one gallon. All toilets and urinals sold in the state would have to meet the requirements by 2014. The bill also is on the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee’s schedule on Tuesday.
CELL PHONES – Motorists under the age of 18 could not use cell phones, even the handsfree variety, while driving, under a bill by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, that is before the Assembly Transportation Committee on Monday. A new law scheduled to take effect July 1, 2008, will require motorists to use handsfree cell phones when driving. Supporters of Simitian’s bill say drivers who are 15, 16 or 17 are too inexperienced and need a tougher requirement to minimize highway distractions.