New Jersey Democrats want to change the makeup of the commission that decides how the state’s legislative map is drawn every 10 years after the U.S. Census figures are released. Democrats said they want the panel to better reflect the state’s diversity and changing demographics.

Assembly Chambers at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

Republican said Democrats want to gerrymander the map to guarantee they have control over the legislature forever.

“This puts this (decision) in an objective way into the inherent power of the people and not just by Democrats and Republicans, but of course all the Independents that vote,” said Assembly Judiciary Committee chairman, John McKeon (D-Madison).

Monday, after an almost four-hour delay in the start of the hearing, the judiciary panel approved a measure (ACR-4) that proposed a constitutional amendment to impose certain requirements on the process and composition of the districts established by the commission for the New Jersey Legislature.

Under current law, the commission is composed of five members each appointed by each State Committee chair and one neutral tiebreaker appointed by the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court if a decision on the new map can’t be reached.

Composition in an amendment approved Monday would still be 11 members:

  • One member appointed by the Senate president;
  • One member appointed by the Assembly speaker;
  • One member appointed by the Senate minority leader;
  • One member appointed by the Assembly minority leader;
  • Three members appointed by each state committee chair;
  • One tie-breaking member appointed by the chief justice would serve for the entire 60-day process; and
  • Sitting State Senators and Assembly members could no longer serve on the panel.

“It would be a potentially permanent Democratic legislature,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Westwood). “A permanent Democratic, one-party control in this state in perpetuity with no checks and balances whatsoever.”

There were arguably just three competitive races in the 2015 Assembly elections. McKeon, who co-sponsors the legislation said these changes would actually produce more races where the outcomes weren’t already decided before voters even went to the polls.

“This is going to be creating at least 10 competitive districts,” he predicted.

Under the resolution, the commission would be required to certify a plan establishing legislative districts that ensures fair representation and to certify a plan with at least 25 percent competitive districts.

The State Senate Judiciary Committee also conducted a hearing Monday to take testimony on the measure.

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