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Redistricting session set for Oct. 5; court OKs more time

DES MOINES — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday set a special legislative session for Oct. 5 to approve redrawn legislative and congressional district maps, and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court signed an order giving lawmakers extra time to complete their task.

Reynolds signed a proclamation convening the special session to take up redistricting, a once-a-decade process that was complicated this year by a delay in releasing U.S. Census Bureau data blamed on the coronavirus pandemic.

Also Tuesday, Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen signed an order allowing the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency to submit maps to the Legislature as outlined in Iowa law even though they will be completed after the legally mandated deadline. She has given them until Dec. 1 to come up with new maps.

The census data was made public Aug. 16 following a five-month delay from its original deadline. The delay sent states scrambling to revise redistricting deadlines.

The Iowa Constitution requires the process to be completed before Sept. 1. If new maps are not approved by Sept. 15, the Iowa Supreme Court is given the power to “cause the state to be apportioned” by Dec. 31.

Christensen’s order said the court, using its constitutional authority, permits the LSA and the Legislature to proceed with the process as outlined and have new maps by Dec. 1.

Iowa law spells out in great detail how the LSA must draw the maps to minimize gerrymandering and political influence in initial drafting. The LSA has said it will release the first maps on Thursday.

State law gives the five-member Iowa Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission 14 days to hold public hearings to gather comment once the maps are released and prepare a report for the Legislature.

The commission has scheduled hearings for Sept. 20, 21 and 22.

Republicans hold a majority in the Legislature so they will have the power to approve or reject the first set of maps. They must be approved or rejected without modification.

Democratic leaders have committed to voting in favor of the first maps the LSA draws, saying Iowa’s process assures that the maps will be nonpartisan and fair.

Republican leaders have declined to make such a pledge.

“Iowa House Republicans are eager to get to work on redistricting after months of delays. Iowa’s nonpartisan redistricting process is considered one of the fairest in all 50 states. We’ve worked with the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency and the Supreme Court to ensure that the integrity of our highly-praised redistricting process is maintained,” House Speaker Pat Grassley said in a statement.

If the first maps are rejected, the LSA has 35 days to draw up a second set of maps. Lawmakers again must vote them up or down. If that plan is rejected, the LSA again has 35 days to draw a third set. Lawmakers may amend the maps like any other legislation before approving them.

In 2000, the Legislature rejected the first set of maps but approved the second. In 2010, lawmakers approved the first set of maps.

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