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Lawmakers pass redistricting maps; citizen referendums and ballot initiatives possible

Posted at 5:31 PM, Nov 09, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature has begun passing redistricting maps.

The House late Tuesday passed the controversial congressional map on a 50-22 vote, with some Republicans crossing over and voting with Democrats against it. Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, and a few House Democrats tried to introduce substitute maps, but were roundly rejected.

The congressional map, which splits Salt Lake County into four parts, now goes to the Utah State Senate for consideration. It faced public pushback at a Monday night hearing, where overwhelming comment was against the legislature's version of the map (with some calling it partisan gerrymandering in favor of Republicans) and in favor of ones put forward by the voter-created Independent Redistricting Commission.

"We have taken feedback from a lot of different folks. That’s part of the dialogue the committee worked on as they drafted these maps. There’s a lot of considerations to look at not just from the independent commission but from other folks," House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told reporters on Tuesday.

The Utah State Senate passed the new Utah State School Board map on a 23-6 vote, with Democrats opposing it.

The legislature's redistricting committee rejected every single map the Independent Redistricting Commission put forward, favoring their own for congress, legislature and state school board. Lawmakers have insisted that they are accountable to voters, and they have the authority to make the maps for political boundaries.

"The legislature will do what the constitution’s charged us to do, which is ultimately select the maps that these elected officials feel like best serve the needs of our state," Speaker Wilson said.

Even the legislature's own maps will impact their own members. Rep. Judy Weeks-Rohner was sworn into office at the start of the special session, representing a part of West Valley City. But under the legislature's own proposed map, she will vote on removing her own district and giving it to Eagle Mountain, which has seen population growth.

In an interview with FOX 13, Rep. Weeks-Rohner, who is a Republican, said she was not thinking about that.

"I’m going to try my hardest to represent the people that put me here," she said. "If anybody should be concerned about it, it should be me. And I’m not. Let’s concentrate on the special session on the next session, and then let’s worry about those things in March, OK?"

There may be pushback if the legislature ultimately approves all its proposed maps. FOX 13 is told opponents of the legislature's maps are exploring lawsuits, a citizen referendum or a ballot initiative.

Late Tuesday, Better Boundaries, which sponsored Proposition 4 that created an independent redistricting process, announced it was pivoting to form a political action committee. The group told FOX 13 it is exploring a ballot initiative or advancing some candidates who support their interests.

Rep. Weeks-Rohner is familiar with referendums. She was a sponsor of the citizen referendum that forced the Utah State Legislature to repeal its massive tax reform bill in 2020.

"I am so familiar with referendums," she said. "And I think that, the people if that’s what they choose to do, that’s up to them."