Senate OKs bill creating commission to draw new legislative districts

Delaware State News | by Matt Bittle

DOVER — The Senate on Wednesday approved a bill ordering independent redistricting of the state’s legislative districts.

The proposal received 12 votes in support and seven against, with one member not voting and one absent.The measure now goes to the House.

Senate Bill 27 would create an independent nine-member commission to redraw legislative district lines every 10 years.

The process is currently overseen by the General Assembly, which critics say can lead to gerrymandering.

The commission would give at least three political parties representation and allow members of the public to serve. Applicants would initially be selected by a panel of judges, with the secretary of state then randomly choosing nine names.

Commission members would be barred from running for office in the following election and from lobbying with the General Assembly or Congress for five years.

Supporters say the measure will largely remove politics from the redistricting process, preventing lawmakers from drawing themselves safer districts or fitting several members of the minority party into one district.

The idea of independent redistricting, main sponsor Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark said, is “a fundamental part of our democratic system.”

But Republicans raised objections.

“If you think this … isn’t going to be dramatically more politicized than bills filed by people who are elected to be here, than you are stunningly naive,” said Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover.

Opponents also protested handing power to a non-elected panel.

“We were hired to do a job and we’ve passed it off in so many different ways,” said Sen. David Lawson, R-Marydel. “That, I think, is wrong.”

Other bills

The House Revenue & Finance Committee released to the House floor a bill creating two new top income tax brackets and limiting itemized deductions for top earners.

House Bill 109 would lower the tax rates by 0.05 percent for the current brackets and establish new brackets of $125,000 and $250,000. They would be taxed at 7.05 and 7.8 percent, respectively.

Delaware’s top tax bracket is $60,000, which is taxed at 6.6 percent.

“When it’s time to pay the piper, you have to make the hard decisions,” main sponsor Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, said.

He has been critical of Gov. John Carney’s proposal, which would raise tax rates for each of the seven existing brackets and would not create a higher level.

While noting his measure is “not intended to be a panacea,” Rep. Kowalko said it would set up a more reliable revenue source for state government.

The Delaware Chamber of Commerce spoke against the bill, speculating it would not produce much money and could drive people to move from the state.

The bill was sent to the House without any Republican votes.

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