POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Special legislative session to discuss redistricting, Dixie State, bail reform

Nov 9, 2021, 9:10 AM | Updated: 12:21 pm
utah capitol special session...
The Utah State Capitol Building as seen atop the Conference Center. Salt Lake City August 11, 2021. (Colby Walker KSL NewsRadio)
(Colby Walker KSL NewsRadio)

SALT LAKE CITY — A special session of the Utah Legislature will convene at 10:30 am on Tuesday, Nov. 9, with a wide range of topics on the agenda. 

On Friday, Gov. Spencer Cox called a special legislative session for Tuesday. The session will conclude Utah’s decadal redistricting process and discuss issues such as President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates and Dixie State’s name change.

Utah’s redistricting maps

The Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC), a committee created and approved through a ballot initiative in 2018, proposed redistricting maps of their own. They revealed their maps on Friday.

Many expressed their support for the commission’s maps in an open letter to Cox with signatures from key business leaders, and political and activist groups. 

The IRC, a bipartisan commission, worries lawmakers’ maps give more power to one party and that the maps will make it easier for incumbents to keep their political positions. 

Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, was quoted by KSL as saying their body created maps that represent the interest of all Utahns.

The congressional map we propose has all four delegates representing both urban and rural parts of the state. Rural Utah is the reason there is food, water and energy in urban areas of the state. We are one Utah, and believe both urban and rural interests should be represented in Washington, D.C. by the entire federal delegation.

However, the legislature has gradually decreased the IRC’s influence since its inception in 2018. Now, the IRC only has only an advisory role.

Late Friday night, lawmakers released maps of their own, with sharp differences from the IRC versions. Notably, the lawmakers’ maps divide Salt Lake City between the state’s four congressional districts. 

Public disappointment in the process

Since Friday, many in Utah have erupted in disappointment at the redistricting process, proceedings, and decisions made by the legislative committee.

The state Legislative Redistricting Committee heard hours of public testimony on Monday before it voted to move to approve its own version of the maps for new political district boundaries.

Many of those who showed up to the Capitol to speak to the committee wanted more consideration of the 12 maps drawn by the IRC.

A number of those who shared their opinion called the Legislative Redistricting Committee’s maps gerrymandering.

Regardless, at today’s special session, the Legislative Redistricting Committee is expected to vote to move forward with the maps made by Republican lawmakers in front of the entire Utah Legislature

New House Majority Leader defends legislative committee

After being introduced as the new House Majority Leader, Rep. Mike Schultz came to the defense of the legislative committee and the maps it approved. 

From his perspective, the committee went above and beyond to provide accurate representation across the state. 

“I do feel like the committee did a great job in keeping communities of interest together,” Schultz said. 

Schultz said claims that the committee sidestepped the IRC are not true. 

“This narrative out there that we didn’t listen to the independent commission is just false because we did take some of their ideas and incorporate them into the maps,” said the new Majority Leader. 

The representative explained the Biden administration’s federal vaccine mandate f0r businesses is another big issue for this special session. He wants to make sure exemptions are put in place for certain employees under the rule. 

The special session agenda

In addition to the redistricting maps vote, Tuesday’s special legislative session will include a number of other topics, according to the Deseret News.

The session will discuss president Biden’s workplace COVID-19 vaccine mandates, which Attorney General Sean Reyes, called an “egregious and unprecedented” exercise of federal power.

Lawmakers will talk about the ongoing Dixie State name change debate. The Dixie State discourse involves discussions of the racist connotations of the name ‘Dixie,’ most commonly known as a descriptor for Confederate southern states.

The discussion follows a recent development in an already extensive process. After a unanimous vote, the Utah Board of Higher Education officially recommended that state lawmakers change the name of Dixie State University to Utah Tech University.

Finally, lawmakers will discuss new solutions to Utah’s bail system after a bail reform bill, HB206, was repealed. HB206 required the release of those accused of low-level crimes into the least restrictive conditions determined on a case-by-case basis.

The Deseret News reports legislative leaders including House Majority Whip Mike Schultz, argued for the reversal of the bill. Schultz claimed dangerous offenders were released within hours under the new law. At four months old, lawmakers repealed the bill.

The issue of bail reform will cycle back into legislative consideration at today’s session.

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Special legislative session to discuss redistricting, Dixie State, bail reform