March 1, 2022 |

House Bill 100, the statewide redistricting plan, passed first reading in the Senate Monday, but a fight is brewing over legislation’s proposed expansion of the legislature.

The so-called 62/31 plan at the heart of HB 100 proposes adding two seats to the House and one to the Senate.

Senator Bo Biteman proposed, then withdrew, an amendment to keep the legislature at its current size. Biteman introduced the amendment to spark a discussion.

Tossing bait into the water worked. Biteman’s amendment sparked a discussion that lasted 45 minutes before he withdrew it with the promise that he would bring back a refined version later. Biteman’s 60/30 plan is based on Senator Charles Scott’s backup bill, SF 70. Senator Ogden Driscoll is the chair of the Corporations Committee, which devised the 62/31 plan. Driscoll pushed back against Biteman’s amendment.

Another Corporations Committee member, Senator Tara Nethercott, said revisiting a 60/30 plan would “open Pandora’s Box.” Senator Driscoll reminded the upper chamber that they should tread on “cautious ground” passed the 62/31 plan by a wide margin, 54-6. Senator John Kolb of Sweetwater County characterized HB 100 as an easy way out of a tough problem. Kolb added that the senate should not shy away from a tug-of-war with the lower chamber.

Senator Cale Case argued that expanding the legislature is not growing government. It’s growing representation.

Case made no mention of the cost of funding a state legislature of that size and the staff needed to go with it. Senator Larry Hicks stood and pricked a hole in Case’s lofty idealism. The Republican from Baggs took the argument of expanding democracy to the extreme.

That’s the definition of growing government, Hicks said. He added that the 62/31 was the result of human nature—doing what’s easiest and not doing what’s right.
Senator Biteman brought the discussion home. He said the Corporations Committee ignored one of its initial guidelines: Produce a 60/30 plan that respected county lines and geography. Instead, the committee put the emphasis on numbers.

With his amendment sparking a debate that exposed how much support the 62/31 plan has in the Senate, Senator Biteman withdrew it on the promise he would bring back an improved version later. Stay tuned.

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