Indiana lawmakers planning on return for redistricting votes

STATEHOUSE – Indiana lawmakers won’t be done for the year when their regular legislative session ends later this month.

Legislative leaders are laying the groundwork for a return by all 150 lawmakers to Indianapolis months from now to approve new congressional and General Assembly districts based on data from last year’s census.

That step is needed because the redistricting data isn’t expected to be released by the Census Bureau until August, at the earliest. The legal deadline for turning in the redistricting data was March 31, but the Census Bureau said it needed more time because of operational delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Provisions included in the state budget bill would extend the current legal deadline for adjourning this year’s legislative session from April 29 until Nov. 15.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston said he expected public hearings would be held around the state and that the Legislature’s election committees would meet to discuss the maps before bringing all lawmakers back for votes on the new districts.

State lawmakers face the once-a-decade task of drawing new districts for congressional seats, along with the 100 Indiana House and 50 state Senate districts, based on population shifts.

The extended adjournment deadline also could give lawmakers a way of returning to action if courts block a bill that the House and Senate have approved giving their leaders the authority to call them back into session during emergencies declared by the governor.

That bill advanced amid discontent among conservatives about Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s COVID-19 executive orders issued under the public health emergency he first declared in March 2020. Holcomb vetoed that bill on Friday as he and some legal experts question whether the Legislature has such power under the state constitution.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray wouldn’t rule out the possibility of lawmakers returning for matters not related to redistricting, but Huston all but ruled it out.

“It would take, I’m sure Senator Bray and I both would say, extraordinary, extraordinary, extraordinary, extraordinary, extraordinary circumstances for us to come back prior to redistricting and it is certainly our hope that we just come back for those days and then that is it,” Huston said.

Democrats and voting-rights advocates have pushed for the establishment of an independent commission to oversee the map drawing, arguing that partisan gerrymandering has helped Indiana Republicans to gain outsized power in the Legislature. But the Republican-dominated House and Senate have rejected giving up control of redistricting.

Legislative leaders are planning to reduce the cost of this year’s regular session by wrapping up on April 21, eight days earlier than required.

It isn’t clear how long a redistricting session could last. A legislative report estimates a two-day session would cost about $69,000.