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Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau says Iowa redistricting model and a redistricting bill proposed in Wisconsin are "virtually identical."
On most key elements they match.
But on the final step, they differ in a significant way.
The State of Wisconsin’s redistricting process has been fraught for years, facing government deadlocks and interventions from the federal courts.
The fall 2023 legislative session marked yet another addition to this prickly timeline when Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced a redistricting bill he said tracked closely with an idea Democrats had long supported: "An Iowa-style nonpartisan redistricting" model that would allow the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau to write new legislative maps.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers quickly dismissed the legislation as "bogus," prompting Vos to respond in a Sept. 15, 2023 news release: Democrats "rejected our (Iowa model) proposal to enact the very plan they originally endorsed."
So, is Vos correct that Democrats are now opposing the very idea they advocated for years?
In response to an email from PolitiFact Wisconsin seeking backup, Vos spokesperson Angela Joyce wrote: "There have to be some differences as our Constitution is different than Iowa’s, and in listening to Democrats’ concerns, we made some amendments to the legislation."
Let’s start with the Iowa system.
Since 1980, Iowa’s legislative districts have been drawn by nonpartisan staff with their Legislative Services Agency. Under Iowa law, legislative maps cannot be redrawn with the intent of favoring a political party, incumbent state legislator or member of Congress. Key provisions include:
The state’s Legislative Services Agency holds three public hearings on a proposed set of maps, then submits a report on the maps to the state’s Legislature, which may vote to approve or reject them. No amendments are allowed other than corrections to errors.
If lawmakers reject the first proposal, the agency has 35 days to propose a new set of maps addressing the reasons the first set were voted down. This process can happen one more time, with the agency offering a third proposal. If the process makes its way to a third proposal, the legislation can be amended — or lawmakers can draft their own set. If the Legislature adopts its own maps, they are subject to review by the state Supreme Court, which in Iowa is composed of appointed, rather than elected, justices. If the legislature fails to adopt maps the Iowa Supreme Court adopts a plan.
The GOP’s plan is almost identical to what Democrats proposed as early as 2003 in its key element: transferring map-drawing authority away from partisans and to the state’s Legislative Reference Bureau.
The Republicans’ proposal has some small variations to accommodate for differences between the states' constitutions, according to a memo the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau prepared.
Per the memo, here are key ways they are similar:
Both Iowa and the GOP’s proposed legislation prohibit the drawing agency from using data on incumbent legislator addresses, voters’ political affiliations, previous election results and demographic information.
Both create a redistricting advisory commission to hold public hearings, report on map proposals and perform other duties.
The Iowa Legislature’s feedback must, to the extent allowed by Iowa’s statutes and the Constitution, be incorporated into the second or third map proposal. If a map proposal is vetoed by the governor, the governor’s feedback must be incorporated into the second or third map proposal. The GOP's proposed legislation has similar requirements for incorporating the legislature and governor’s feedback between map proposals.
Democrats point to a provision in the Republican legislation for what happens if the attempt to agree on maps gets to a third try. Evers’ most recent proposals required a three-fourths supermajority to approve changes made on the third attempt. Under the Republican plan, a simple majority could approve changes in the third attempt. Evers wants the supermajority to ensure that one party does not ultimately enact a partisan gerrymander at the end of the process
As the Journal Sentinel reported in a Sept. 14 article:
"Democratic lawmakers who have worked on redistricting bills are put off by the fact that the GOP proposal is most similar to a bill from 2015 — rather than more recent proposals that have been adjusted and still received support from a handful of Republicans. ... Under the GOP bill, the Legislative Reference Bureau would submit maps to the Legislature, which could reject the first two proposals.
"Once a third proposal is introduced, lawmakers could amend it with a simple majority. It would then require the governor’s approval, and would likely end up in the courts without an agreement — unless the Legislature were able to override the governor’s veto. Recent bills, and Evers’ budget proposal, would have required a three-fourths majority to approve the final maps."
Passage of the legislation would bypass lawsuits before the state Supreme Court that seek to rewrite the current Republican-favorable maps that were adopted in 2021.
With Justice Janet Protasiewicz’s election earlier this year, liberals hold a majority on the court for the first time in years. Protasiewicz rebuffed calls by Vos and others to recuse herself from the lawsuits — a move Vos has warned could lead to her impeachment after she called the current maps "rigged" while campaigning for the court seat. The court heard oral arguments Nov. 21.
In a news release, Vos claimed Evers and Democrats "rejected our (Iowa model) proposal to enact the very plan they originally endorsed."
There are many key parallels in the Iowa redistricting model and a redistricting bill proposed here in Wisconsin. In fact, Wisconsin’s nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau termed them "virtually identical."
And Democrats as early as 2003 called for transferring map-drawing authority to the bureau and away from lawmakers. The Republican proposal does that. But the GOP plan also abandons a key provision that Evers introduced in 2019, requiring approval of three-fourths of all members in the Assembly and Senate to pass the maps if a third round of voting becomes necessary.
Our definition of Mostly True is that the statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
That fits here.
Rep. Robin Vos, press release on Sept. 15, 2023
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Vos backs turning over drawing of election maps to nonpartisan agency in bid to bypass lawsuits, Sept. 12, 2023
Gov. Tony Evers, WisconsinEye’s Newsmakers, Oct. 30, 2023
Legislative Reference Bureau, Memorandum: Nonpartisan redistricting in Iowa and under LRB-4349, Sept. 12, 2023
The Associated Press, Wisconsin governor signs order for redistricting commission, Jan. 27, 2020
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Republicans' redistricting plan is nearly identical to Democrats' bill from 4 past sessions, Sept. 22, 2023
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tony Evers seeks to end gerrymandering with state budget provision to create nonpartisan commission, Feb. 26, 2019
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tony Evers and Democrats said they wanted Iowa style redistricting. Then they rejected it, Sept. 28, 2023
The Cap Times, Is Iowa-style redistricting in Wisconsin’s future?, Sept. 13, 2023
WisPolitics, Gov. Evers: Moves to intervene in redistricting challenge to Wisconsin’s legislative maps, Oct. 10, 2023
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