State Capitol Baton Rouge politics

Advocate file photo -- The Louisiana State Capitol.

In January 2018, Fair Districts Louisiana hosted the Louisiana Redistricting Summit with the goal of exploring measures to ensure that the post-2020 Census redrawing of our congressional, legislative, Supreme Court, and BESE districts accords with the core American ideal of having a responsive representative democracy. We were delighted to see that participants from across the political spectrum overwhelmingly agreed on the need for fair maps. Louisianans may not agree on everything, but we certainly agree on this.

The desire for transparency in redistricting was one aspect on which there was particularly overwhelming agreement. Guided by this, we began researching redistricting transparency measures across the country. Ultimately, we identified a set of recommendations and worked with legislators and subject matter experts to put together a bill. The end result was House Bill 504 introduced into the 2019 session.

The House and Government Affairs Committee Tuesday voted down HB 504. Even though all the members agreed that the redrawing of electoral districts after each census is one of the most consequential processes to take place in our democracy, the Republican members of the committee did not want to confirm a strategy for public meetings.

Fair Districts, Louisiana Progress and the Power Coalition, Public Affairs Research Council and the many other groups supporting improving transparency in how districts are drawn will continue to advocate so that our governing bodies are accurately representative of our state’s citizens.

In past redistricting processes, the Louisiana legislature has chosen to pursue several important transparency measures. However, due to term limits, the legislators who will be drawing the maps in 2021 will have little experience with those previous redistricting processes. This is why HB 504 sought to codify some of those earlier transparency measures into law, and to build on them. Specifically, it would codify these three things:

• Require the Legislature to conduct at least ten public hearings across the state prior to the beginning of the redistricting legislative session, with the goal of informing the public and gathering input.

• Require a five-day public review period between when the new maps are reported from committee and when they go up for a final floor vote, so the press and public will have a chance to review the new districts that will be in place for the next 10 years.

• Establish a nonbinding study and advisory commission that will look at past redistricting practices in Louisiana, identify best practices from other states, and learn about redistricting tools and resources that have become available in recent years.

Redistricting is a complex process. We will continue to advocate for these three steps which will help to ensure public education and input and give legislators some important tools they can use to foster a healthier, fairer, more open democracy in Louisiana.

Stephen Kearny

Fair Districts Louisiana

Baton Rouge

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