Guardrails and handcuffs — those were among the metaphors a pair of lawmakers used today describing a measure that would repeal the criteria courts must consider if called upon to settle voting district boundaries. The debate culminated in a controversial move by the committee chairwoman that had Republican members crying foul.
In 2003, lawmakers codified criteria that the judicial branch must adhere to when determining boundaries for voting districts. While the legislature has the constitutional responsibility of designating the boundaries, the judiciary branch steps in when the legislature cannot come to an agreement. House Bill 1408, sponsored by the Democratic House Majority leader, Paul Weissmann of Louisville, would repeal the 2003 criteria.
GOP representative Mark Waller of Colorado Springs, believes that the criteria set forth in 2003 is a necessary check and balance against the courts, and told his colleagues on the House State ,Veterans and Military Affairs Committee that there is simply too much opportunity for gerrymandering—the practice of drawing district lines for political advantage.
“Our court has proven time and time again that they’re willing to get into the political process,” said Waller. “We need to put up these guardrails, on the Supreme Court, so we can be sure that they’re doing what’s right here, and, we’re not giving them a license to gerrymander.”
Democratic representative Joe Miklosi of Denver strongly objected to the 2003 criteria which precludes factoring in district competitiveness.
“The 2003 unjust law is not a guardrail, it was a handcuff that handcuffed the Supreme Court to not prioritize competitiveness as a factor,” countered Miklosi.
The measure garnered additional controversy, aside from the merits of the bill itself, when the committee chair, Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, ended the hearing prematurely, citing time constraints. There was a Democratic caucus meeting just after noon that Todd and other Democratic members wanted to attend.
Todd warned members as the meeting convened she wanted to end shortly after noon, and later apologized for considering another bill first before taking up the potentially more time consuming HB1408.
Republican committee members were left wondering whether testimony on the bill could still be heard, along with time for questions and answers with witnesses, since the bill was laid over until Tuesday.
Rep. Brian Del Grosso, a Republican from Loveland, speaking after the committee had adjourned, expressed the frustration that he and his colleagues were experiencing.
“They kind of rammed this through in an effort to get this done and get to a meeting,” said Del Grosso. “Testimony was cut off for those who wanted to testify longer, and we obviously wanted to ask the witnesses questions. That’s a tough pill to swallow especially on a bill as contentious as this one.”
Weissmann understands that the bill is contentious, but said he doesn’t understand why the issue solicits such controversy.
“It’s frustrating because you say the word ‘redistricting’ and people ‘wig-out,’” said Weissmann.
Del Grosso agrees with Weismann that it’s an issue that people want to talk about.
“It’s going to be a hot topic—one that’s not going to be done in 5 or 10 minutes,” said Del Grosso.
The redistricting bill is contentious enough that the Denver Post published a house editorial before the gavel could even open the committee.