Marc Kovac - New year brings new round of debates on redistricting

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COLUMBUS -- Will this be the year lawmakers act to change the way Ohio draws its congressional and legislative district lines?

The answer to that is a resounding maybe.

Ohio's Republican legislative leaders have indicated that they are willing to move forward with some type of reform package. And the state's chief elections official told an audience in Columbus last week that he believes 2013 "will be a historical year in Ohio elections."

"... I believe 2013 is the year we will finally get a bipartisan redistricting resolution passed in Ohio," Husted told the winter gathering of county elections officials.

Part of the hope stems from a resolution adopted by the Ohio Senate in the waning days of the lame duck session, when 32 of the chamber's 33 members voted to OK a proposed constitutional amendment designed to force Democratic and Republican cooperation on the decennial mapping.

That amendment called for a new seven-member commission to draw congressional and legislative districts. Members would include the governor, secretary of state, auditor and members appointed by majority and minority leaders of the Ohio House and Senate, with no sitting lawmakers allowed.

Any final plans would require support from the minority party, with prohibitions on lines drawn "with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party."

That resolution is dead, since it was offered at the end of the last general assembly, with no time for consideration in the House. But it could be reintroduced during the new session.

Asked about the issue during the ceremonial opening session day last week, Republican Senate President Keith Faber said the issue was "a significant interest."

"We do believe in this body strongly in redistricting reform," he said.

Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder also said he supports redistricting reform, though he plans to address the topic during coming meetings of the new Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission -- a process that probably means changes aren't on a fast track toward the November ballot.

"I have a number of people who are anxious to do something," Batchelder said.

It's a pretty safe bet that any new redistricting reform package will retain the latest lines. Those maps were challenged by opponents, who placed an issue before voters in November that would have revamped the process and led to new boundaries before the next census. That issue failed by a wide margin.

And any new plan would require voter approval, which could prove challenging given the often-complex nature of the process.

But Husted and others remain hopeful something will be accomplished in the near term.

"There's every reason to be optimistic we're going to get this done," Husted said. "Throw in the fact that ... given the way that things have gone in Washington and the level of of despair that a lot of people have about government working, the idea that you could pass a bipartisan redistricting reform plan that will make districts compact, competitive and allow the people to reclaim their democracy is something that any political person should put their name on and say, see, I'm trying to do something that makes this place better. And I think there will be momentum for it."

(Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.)

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