Newberry bill calls for independent commission for future redistricting

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PROVIDENCE – Saying that the state needs to take some of the politics out of redistricting, Rep. Brian Newberry is calling for a change to the process that would see an independent commission appointed to redraw legislative maps in 2031.

Newberry, a Republican who represents District 48 in North Smithfield and Burrillville, is the primary sponsor of House Bill 7584, which would require the future seven member commission to include a retired judge.

The bill follows the recent passage of new legislative boundaries based in the 2020 census that brought criticism from Republicans serving on the 2022 commission. Three legislators from northern Rhode Island cast dissenting votes on the maps, citing last-minute changes that had not been presented during months of public hearings.

While the proposed changes won’t affect Rhode Island politics until the legislature looks at the state’s district boundaries in another ten years, Newberry says the legislation is needed to minimize political influence in the process.

“It is very difficult, politically, to make a change with redistricting because – let’s all face it – incumbents like their districts,” Newberry reportedly said during a recent hearing on the bill. “That’s politics. That’s how we all play the game.”

John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, was among those to testify on the proposal, stating it doesn’t go far enough to limit political influence in the state’s process.

“We don’t think it solves the fundamental conflict of interest,” Marion reportedly said. “The fundamental conflict is the legislature still controls the process.”

Rep. David Place, a Republican representing District 47 in Burrillville and Glocester, is among co-sponsors of the bill.

The legislation was held for further study in the House Committee on State Government and Elections.

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