JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's Republican senators put forth a new plan Wednesday that would scrap "partisan fairness" and "competitiveness" from the criteria used to draw state House and Senate districts — reversing a key part of a ballot initiative approved by voters just two years ago.
Senators began debating the newly proposed constitutional amendment on Wednesday. If approved by the Legislature, it would go to a public vote later this year.
In addition to changing the redistricting criteria, it also would abolish a voter-approved state demographer position to draw districts and return the task to a bipartisan commission used in the past.
Like the successful "Clean Missouri" initiative on the 2018 ballot, the new GOP proposal would package the redistricting changes with other potentially popular ethics reforms. It would ban lobbyist gifts to lawmakers— which had been limited to $5 by the 2018 measure — and would further reduce campaign contribution limits.
"If you like Clean Missouri, you're going to love Cleaner Missouri," said Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Republican from Warrensburg.
Democrats argued that the measure could result in a more partisan redistricting process in 2021, after the results of the 2020 census are known. Among other things, the new measure deletes a requirement that redistricting be based on the census.
"This version reinstates gerrymandering into our election process and the drawing of districts," said Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat from St. Louis County.
But what constitutes gerrymandering has become a matter of debate. Republicans argued that the 2018 ballot proposal could result in long, winding districts connecting urban areas with suburban and rural ones to try to maximize "competitiveness" and "partisan fairness."
Sen. Dan Hegeman, a Republican from Cosby who is sponsoring the new measure, said that could create "much more gerrymandered districts" than his proposal, which places importance on compact districts that keep communities intact.
Missouri was one of five states where voters in 2018 approved redistricting ballot measures designed to decrease the potential for partisan influence when redrawing voting districts. An Associated Press analysis of Missouri's redistricting formula shows it is likely to lead to Democratic gains in the state Legislature while dropping Republican supermajorities closer to the more even partisan division often reflected in statewide races.
Earlier this month, Hegeman had proposed a measure that would have kept the criteria for "partisan fairness" and "competitiveness" while simply bumping them to the bottom of the priority list. He said he decided to remove those criteria from his revised proposal because they were the provisions he "resented the most."
Neither the 2018 measure nor the new Republican proposal affects redistricting for the U.S. House, which would continue to be passed as a bill by state lawmakers subject to a gubernatorial veto.