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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : latest news : state September 24, 2016

4/26/2013 10:30:00 AM
More state money heading to Redistricting Commission

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- State lawmakers are on the verge of giving the Independent Redistricting Commission another $635,226 of tax dollars to continue to fight lawsuits -- including one filed by legislators themselves.

The separate votes Wednesday by the House and Senate appropriations committees came despite grumbling from several Republican legislators who noted this is the third pot of money the commission is getting just this fiscal year. The latest funding, if given final approval, will bring this year's budget up to more than $2.5 million, pretty much all of that to fuel the legal fights.

And the commission already has spent more than $6.1 million since the decennial remapping process began two years ago.

"I still have a lot of concerns about the IRC and the spending frenzy without any seeming accountability to the people who have to pay the bill,' complained Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City.

House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, agreed. But he told colleagues that they really have no choice.

"We have a constitutional obligation here, as you well know,' he said. That's because voters, in creating the commission in 2000, mandated that lawmakers provide them the funds they need for their job of drawing lines for the state's 30 legislative and nine congressional districts.

What's happened a decade ago -- and again now -- is those upset with those maps have filed suit. And Tobin conceded that the Arizona Constitution requires lawmakers to pay the fees of the lawyers defending those maps and the associated costs.

Tobin is effectively a plaintiff in one of those.

That lawsuit, filed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in federal court, contends the U.S. Constitution requires that congressional lines be drawn only by each state's legislature.

Attorneys for the state say that makes part of the 2000 law invalid. And that would give lawmakers the power to create congressional districts like they had before the commission was created.

The commission's own lawyers argue, however, that the voters have the power to decided that, for redistricting purposes, the commission and not the official Legislature is the legislative body.

That case has yet to go to trial.

A separate federal lawsuit by Republican interests charges the commission with ignoring requirements for equally-populated legislative districts. More to the point, challengers say those changes were done to provide a political advantage to Democrats.

A three-judge panel heard arguments in that case last month but has yet to rule.

And a third case, pending in Maricopa County Superior Court, charges the commission with failing to follow its own procedures in crafting congressional districts.

Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, complained the constitutional provision has "given a blank check' to the commission to continue to fight all the lawsuits. But, like Tobin, Olson said he is bound by that obligation and agreed to support the funding.

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