Maryland Senate OKs bill to create redistricting commission — if other states do the same

The Maryland Senate approved a bill Thursday that would require the state to create a nonpartisan commission for redistricting — but only if five other states agree to do the same.

Senators were divided between those who see the bill as a hollow gesture and others who say it's a first step toward fixing Maryland's confusing, gerrymandered political districts.

Proponents of the bill say that requiring five other Mid-Atlantic states to shift to nonpartisan redistricting is a regional solution to the problem. Opponents countered that the measure would simply delay any meaningful action.

"We're going to pass something that will never happen, just so we can say we did something," said Justin Ready, a Carroll County Republican who voted against the bill.

Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat who voted for the bill, said it's a positive first step.

"It is an imperfect solution, but it is a better solution than what we have now," she said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller acknowledged in an interview Wednesday that he had not reached out to any public officials in the other states to gauge interest in a regional plan.

Maryland's Congressional districts are considered among the most-gerrymandered in the nation, with districts meandering across the state in ways that have ensured Democrats are elected in most districts.

A federal judge famously described Maryland's third Congressional District — currently represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes — as a "broken-winged pterodactyl lying prostrate across the center of the state."

The vote for the bill was 30-16, largely along party lines, with most Democrats voting for the bill. Two Democrats joined Republicans in opposing the bill.

The measure now moves to the House of Delegates for consideration.

Gov. Larry Hogan proposed a bill to create an independent redistricting commission that was killed by lawmakers. Senate Republicans failed earlier in the week in an attempt to substitute most of Hogan's bill into the regional redistricting bill.

Miller said the governor's proposal was unconstitutional. A letter from an assistant attorney general noted several legal issues with the governor's bill, including that it would have barred the General Assembly from taking certain future actions on redistricting.

pwood@baltsun.com

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