DOVER – A proposal that would fully open Delaware’s political mapping process to public scrutiny cleared a Senate panel Wednesday and has been scheduled for debate and a vote on the Senate floor next Tuesday.
Senate President Pro Tem Anthony DeLuca, D-Varlano, said he’s hoping that Senate Bill 50 takes a fast trip to Gov. Jack Markell’s desk.
“We’re trying to get this redistricting process done by June 30. I think it’s important that the actions we’ve taken so far be made public and that the actions we take from now forward are done in public,” said DeLuca, the measure’s prime sponsor. “The sooner this legislation is passed and signed, the sooner the public becomes involved.”
Every 10 years, the state is required to redraw its legislative maps to conform with federal one person, one vote requirements. In Delaware, the Senate and House each draw their own maps although each chamber and the governor must sign off on them.
If it’s approved, DeLuca’s bill, which is co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, and Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, would completely open the remapping process by making public all documents related to redistricting before the bill was approved and by opening up all meetings relating to the process – including typically closed-door House and Senate caucus meetings.
Witnesses at the Senate Executive Committee’s hearing on the bill generally liked what was on the table.
“We’re very pleased to see that the Senate leadership has initiated this bill,” said Sandy Spence, president of the Delaware League of Women voters. “We’re particularly excited because it really does provide for open government and lets the sun shine on the whole redistricting process, which is usually done in a back room.”
Spence said the league would like to see the bill amended to allow for direct public participation in redistricting. DeLuca said there will be public hearings on the proposed maps to receive testimony and suggestions.
“The intent of the bill is to make the process completely open,” DeLuca said. “It wasn’t intended to try to change the process and change the momentum that’s already been gathered. We are going to meet all the requirements for open, public meetings and take public suggestions as we have in the past.”
Ten years ago, the mapping process wasn’t completed until the spring of 2002 because of a battle over House Republican plans to expand the size of the General Assembly. This year lawmakers have said there are no similar plans in the offing.
Christine Whitehead of the New Castle County Civic League was involved in the 2001-02 remapping battle and says she’s excited about the legislation.
“I really applaud what the Democratic leadership has done. They have opened the process in the best way they possibly could,” Whitehead said. “There’s been a lot of cynicism over the years about this process and this is the first indication that legislators are willing to listen to their constituents about it …I hope it will make the public more inclined to get involved. “