Rhode Island seriously considers a redistricting commission

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May 31, 2011

by Eileen McGuire-Mahony

Providence, RHODE ISLAND: Rhode Island's Special Commission on Redistricting is one step closer to a reality. Following a May 26, 2011 Senate vote, S 0924 passed the upper chamber. The bill authorizes a special commission dedicated to preparing redistricting recommendations for the Rhode Island General Assembly.

Consisting of 18 members, the Special Commission will be tasked with holding public hearings across the Ocean State and preparing a series of formal recommendations for the lawmakers officially in charge of redrawing legislative and Congressional boundaries for Rhode Island.

In each chamber the leaders, respectively House Speaker Gordon D. Fox and Senate President  M. Teresa Paiva-Weed, will have seven picks. Their minority leadership counterparts, Representative Robert Watson and Senator  Dennis Algiere , then have two picks apiece. For the Speaker and President, four of their choices will come from the legislative membership; the remaining three will be citizens of the state – meaning half a dozen Rhode Islanders will play newly prominent role in redistricting.

Once formed, the Commission will be equally composed of Representatives, Senators, and citizens, each of whom will work with the consulting firm already hired by the state in addition to participating in townhall-style meetings.

In the Senate, the bill had wide support, with the majority and minority both sponsoring the act. Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio and his Whip, Maryellen Goodwin, introduced the bill alongside Minority Leader Algiere. Democratic Senator Paul V. Jabour also signed on.

The bill now moves to the House, where its twin, H 6096, is being run by Cranston Democrat Stephen R. Ucci. That item is scheduled for its next hearing tomorrow. Mean while, the Senate version has been referred to the House Finance Committee.

If the bills pass, they become effective immediately, though they leave the actual act of redistricting under legislative control. Governor Lincoln Chafee has a veto on any plan the legislature hands him, something that could be a way off as Rhode Island has no hard deadline to complete redistricting. In addition to a pair of U.S. House seats, Rhode Island has 38 Senate and 75 House districts.


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