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Lawmakers And Better Boundaries Reach Agreement On Changes To New Anti-Gerrymandering Law

Photo of men in suits sitting in blue armchairs around a coffee table with microphones on it.
Sonja Hutson/KUER
Utah Senate leadership discuss a compromise over revisions to the anti-gerrymandering law Proposition 4.

Utah lawmakers have come to an agreement, in principle, with Better Boundaries over potential revisions to a new anti-gerrymandering law. The language of those revisions hasn’t been finalized yet.

Better Boundaries is the group behind Proposition 4, which was narrowly approved by voters in 2018. It creates an independent redistricting commission that draws congressional and legislative district lines. Those maps have to be approved by the legislature. 

Negotiations between legislative leadership and Better Boundaries stalled last week over requiring the commission not to consider partisanship when drawing the maps. Republican leadership said partisan gerrymandering can’t be adequately defined and therefore had constitutional problems. But Better Boundaries contended the law had to be constitutional in order to make it on the ballot in 2018. 

While lawmakers declined to go into detail about the compromise, Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, said the commission would make its own rules about things like partisan gerrymandering. 

“If you're going to be independent, you don't need me to tell you your rules,” Gibson said. “You go make rules based on what you feel is necessary.”

Rebecca Chavez-Houck, Better Boundaries Executive Director, declined to comment until the bill revising Proposition 4 is released. 

Gibson said Better Boundaries and lawmakers would hold a press conference Thursday to provide more details on the compromise and on a bill that would formally propose revisions to Proposition 4.

But, Alliance for a Better Utah’s Executive Director Chase Thomas said his organization disagrees with the agreement reached. 

“It gets rid of those safeguards to gerrymandering, and we feel that that is completely opposite of what the voters wanted,” Thomas said. 

If the revisions bill passes the state legislature and is signed by the governor, lawmakers will have altered each of the three propositions approved by voters in 2018. 

“We continue to be disappointed that the legislature is completely ignoring the will of the people, whether it's propositions or tax reform or other unpopular laws,” Thomas said. “Hopefully voters will come to understand that they're being ignored by their representatives, by the legislature and make a change.” 

But Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said the commission is staying independent, which he argued is the core of the law.

“I would hope that if we can satisfy the very group that put the proposition together that it would satisfy the people who supported them in doing that,” Vickers said. “It doesn’t fit our constitution … we were forced to make some changes to it.”

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