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Redistricting commission: Senate bill 'a positive first step'

Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission
Sarah Lehr
Members of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission hear feedback from the public during a public hearing at the Lansing Center on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021

Michigan’s redistricting commission says it’s already spent around $432,000 since its budget money ran out in October.

According to a breakdown presented at a meeting Thursday, over half that money has gone toward consultants. That includes lawyers to defend the state’s legislative district maps in court.

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) is currently suing the state Legislature for funding.

Commissioner Steve Lett said they’ve given lawmakers more time to respond to the lawsuit.

“The idea then being once we did that, that our attorneys would talk with their attorneys and say, ‘Look, isn’t there something we can work out? You won’t have to answer. We can get something done and dismiss the suit or do something with it,’” Lett said during the meeting.

The state Senate approved $1.5 million for the commission Wednesday as part of a broader year-end book closing budget package.

But the MICRC estimates that won’t cover its costs. It expects to begin preparing for depositions in its last remaining lawsuit, Agee v. Benson et al. next month.

Senate Appropriations Chair Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) said the number included in the Senate proposal came from the governor’s office.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be an exhaustive number. We may go back to the table but we thought that [$1.5 million] was a good way to show that we do appreciate the work that the commission has done and I know that they do have some outstanding costs that they need to address,” she told reporters shortly following THE Senate session Wednesday.

Redistricting commission executive director Edward Woods III called the bill “a positive first step.” He said he’s been regularly meeting with lawmakers and the governor’s office to find a solution.

The lawsuit asks for about $3 million to fund its projected Fiscal Year 2023 budget.

Criticism has come up over that budget including money for commissioners to still receive salaries despite having completed their main task of drawing maps over a year ago.

The state’s current budget gave the commission no money, leading to its current dilemma.

The Michigan Constitution states, “The legislature shall provide adequate funding to allow the commission to defend any action regarding an adopted plan.”

The spending bill now goes to the House of Representatives.

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