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New York Senate passes redistricting reform amendment

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March 15, 2011

State Sen. John Bonacic, sponsor of the amendment
Ballotpedia:WikiProject Redistricting

By Greg Janetka

ALBANY, New York: Following weeks of bitter partisan fighting over redistricting reform, the New York State Senate yesterday passed a bill that takes the first step toward a constitutional amendment creating an independent, nonpartisan apportionment commission. This, however, seems to have done little to quell partisan rancor. The Republican majority in the senate said that this satisfies the NY Uprising campaign pledge they signed promising reform. Democrats, however, say that this simply kicks the issue down the line as the amendment would not affect the current redistricting cycle.

The bill, S. 3331, would create an independent commission to redraw legislative and congressional districts every ten years. The commission would be made up of five members, with one member each appointed by the temporary President of the Senate, Speaker of the Assembly, Senate Minority Leader and Assembly Minority Leader. These four would select a fifth to serve as chair. None of the members could be past or present public officials or office holders.[1]

Sponsor of the bill Sen. John Bonacic (R) said of the bill, "I thought it was pure, it was simple, it was independent it was bi-partisan. It's as truthful as we can get when it comes to drawing lines for redistricting."[2] Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R), who has recently been criticized for not pushing for redistricting reform, praised the legislation, stating, "This is a truly fair and nonpartisan redistricting reform bill that is constitutional, does not give unfair influence to either party in the process and fulfills our commitment to address this issue. With this action, we have taken a significant step towards reform that the Senate Democrats were never willing to take in the past two years."[1]

Good government groups and Democrats, however, point out that the bill is not as clear as Republicans claim. In order to change the New York Constitution, two consecutively elected legislatures need to vote for the bill, which then must be approved by voters in a general election. The earliest this amendment could pass would be November 2013, much too late to affect the current round of redistricting. Dick Dadey of the reform group Citizens Union said, "It essentially kicks the can down the road 11 years away to 2022. We need redistricting reform now."[2]

The Senate voted 35-24 on the constitutional amendment bill, with four Democrats supporting it.[3] The majority of Democrats have put their support behind Gov. Andrew Cuomo's bill, the Redistricting Reform Act of 2011. The bill, unveiled on February 17, would establish a permanent Independent Redistricting Commission to redraw boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts. Senate Republicans on the Rules Committee have thwarted several attempts by Democrats to force a public hearing on the bill.

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