State lawmakers and researchers held a redistricting committee meeting in Rose Park on Tuesday night, where members of the public were able to submit their own proposals on redistricting maps.
It marked the committee’s seventh public hearing for the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing statewide district lines, with 19 of the legislative committee’s 20 members present to hear proposals and public comment. A few dozen residents came out, including a University of Utah student who presented his own suggested maps and a former state legislator who lives in Rose Park.
“We’ve selected people from each [part of the] state as we do redistricting,” Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, co-chair of the committee, said, “because the key for us was having people drawing maps that represented those local communities, and they understand the demographics and the geography and the things that really matter when it comes to putting maps together.”
Keeping communities together was crucial to Rose Park residents. Part of their community was partitioned into Davis County in the last round of redistricting, said resident and former Democratic state house Rep. Jennifer Seelig.
The committee is also legally prohibited from using race demographics as a primary factor in statewide redistricting, just as lawmakers were prohibited from doing in 20.
During public comment, Ernie Gamonal with the Utah Coalition of La Raza told the committee that he respectfully disagreed with counsel not using race data in the mapmaking process. He said the redistricting done 10 years ago “divided the strongest population centers of the Latino community,” and since then, the state has seen an increase in Latino residents.
“I would ask this committee when you are looking at the map that you’re going to present to the Legislature as a whole, that you understand when a line gets drawn through a Spanish-speaking community, and it divides them — it dilutes them,” Gamonal said.
Gamonal also expressed concerns about how the committee is working with the independent redistricting commission established through a ballot measure in 2018, as opposed to letting the independent commission handle the task separately. The commission was limited to an advisory role by the Legislature in 2020.
“We’re required by the Constitution to draw the maps,” Ray said of state lawmakers. “It’s interesting because if you look at the commission, they have seven commissioners — all live in the Wasatch Front. We have people from all over the state that understand the state. They understand the communities that they live in, and they represent those communities.”
Ray said the committee and the commission benefit from working together, though the committee is prohibited by law from talking about specific boundaries with commissioners.
“We actually are kind of on parallel courses now, as the independent commission is visiting cities and sites kind of different than we are by design, to try to gather as much input as possible,” said Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, co-chair of the committee.
The commission in November will “present those maps to us; then, by Constitution, the Legislature has to finalize a map and adopt a map under our constitutional mandate,” Sandall said.
He said he welcomed public input the meetings provide.
“The point of these meetings is we’re trying to figure it out too,” Sandall said. “Somebody might have a great idea that we can use and that’s what we’re hoping for.”
The next public redistricting meetings will be focused in Southern Utah, with meetings scheduled in Cedar City on Sept. 24 and St. George on Sept. 25.