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Archive for Friday, February 14, 2003

Redistricting changes proposed

Appointed state commission would handle redrawing of political districts

February 14, 2003

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— Having been through the carnage wrought by last year's redistricting battles, two senators are proposing a constitutional amendment to create a commission to redraw political boundaries.

"Reapportionment should be about our constituents choosing us, not us choosing our constituents," Sen. Derek Schmidt, a co-sponsor of the proposal, said Thursday.

The Legislature is in charge of drawing all 125 House, 40 Senate, four congressional and 10 State Board of Education districts every 10 years to reflect population changes shown in the U.S. Census.

Schmidt's resolution, being considered by the Senate Elections and Local Government Committee, would establish an appointed commission to redraw the districts.

The Supreme Court Nominating Commission would narrow a pool of applicants for the redistricting commission. Seven voting members would be appointed -- one each by the governor, chief justice of the Supreme Court, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, Senate president, Senate minority leader, House speaker and House minority leader.

No more than four voting members could be from the same political party, and the secretary of state would serves as a nonvoting member.

If the amendment is approved by voters, the commission would redraw districts after the 2010 Census and present maps to the 2012 Legislature, which would not be able to amend them.

If one map were rejected, the commission would prepare a second map. If that, too, were rejected, a third map would be drawn. It would only be if a third map were rejected that legislators could draw their own boundaries.

Schmidt, R-Independence, said Iowa had a similar process and that legislators there never reached the point of drawing their own maps.

Last session, legislators became embroiled in a bitter dispute that had its origins in hearings dating to the summer of 2001. Schmidt and Sen. Christine Downey, D-Newton, said the process did more than contribute to the record length of last year's 107-day session.

"We alienated the public, damaged our own reputations and strained personal relationships that were needed to deal with last year's serious budget problems," Downey said.

Senate leaders of both parties are interested in the proposal as well. Both President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, and Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said the idea was worth reviewing.

Members of the committee did not disagree with the characterization of last year's process.

However, Sen. Stan Clark, R-Oakley, questioned whether the new commission truly would reflect all Kansans or whether some, like his fellow conservative Republicans, might go unrepresented. He worried that the nominating commission was a "closed club."

Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe, objected, arguing that Democrats might have a disproportionate share of the redistricting commission's membership, given large GOP legislative majorities.

The Senate committee may vote next week on whether to send the resolution to the full chamber.

Redistricting is Senate Resolution 1607.

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