BISMARCK — The North Dakota Senate has approved a bill that would set the stage for redrawing the state's political boundaries later this year.

The upper chamber voted unanimously on Monday, April 5, to bounce the recently amended House Bill 1397 back to the House of Representatives, which overwhelmingly passed an earlier version of the legislation in February. The Republican-backed bill would assign a committee of lawmakers to draw new equally populated districts, a process that only comes around once every 10 years.

Transparency advocates came out against a provision in the original bill that made drafts of the redistricting map exempt from open records laws until they were presented to the full Legislature or Legislative Management, a panel that includes top lawmakers.

The complaints over potentially obscured drafts prompted the Senate to amend the bill to make preliminary redistricting plans subject to open records laws and automatically available when introduced during redistricting committee meetings. The changes also specify that, if possible, the drafts to be presented at a meeting must be made publicly accessible online prior to the meeting. The bill would still allow lawmakers on the committee to privately consult with legislative staffers before sharing any drafts.

Sen. Howard Anderson, R-Turtle Lake, said the amended proposal struck a good balance between making redistricting transparent and open to public commentary, while allowing stakeholders to sketch rough drafts behind closed doors.

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Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner previously told Forum News Service the redistricting committee will likely include 16 or 18 lawmakers, with mostly Republicans and two or three Democrats — a reflection of the partisan breakdown in the Legislature. Lawmakers in the GOP-dominated House killed a Democratic proposal to establish an independent redistricting committee.