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Archive for Sunday, January 12, 2003

A nonbudget priority

January 12, 2003

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In addition to addressing the state's budget problems, the Kansas Legislature should give high priority to a proposal to improve the state's redistricting process.

The state's serious budget crunch is the most urgent issue facing the Kansas Legislature as it opens its session on Monday, but other matters also require lawmakers' attention.

Among those is an item that won't cost the state anything but is vitally needed: Revision of the state's process for redrawing legislative and congressional districts.

The process the Kansas Legislature went through last year to accomplish this job was marked by political infighting and vindictive posturing. Redistricting, which should have been accomplished early in the session, dragged on until the final days of a record-long session, even threatening the secretary of state's ability to hold primary elections on schedule last summer.

The contentious atmosphere it fed in the Legislature affected negotiations concerning far more important issues facing the body. At least some legislative leaders believe the bad feelings created by the redistricting process are so strong that they will continue to haunt this year's proceedings.

This disruptive process needs to be fixed, and there's no time like the present to do the job.

Two state senators, a Republican and a Democrat, circulated a plan last summer that would set up an independent commission to draw up legislative and congressional districts based on population, not politics. The proposed map would go to the Legislature which could reject, but not change it. If it were rejected, it would go back to the commission for another try.

According to the senators' plan, the cost of setting up the commission would be offset by eliminating the state's census adjustment that seeks to return students and military personnel to their "home" addresses for the purposes of redistricting. Kansas is the only state in the union that attempts such a task. Its accuracy is questionable and the expense is unjustified. Establishing an independent redistricting commission would be a far better use of the funds.

Although the goal of redistricting should be to preserve natural communities of interest and provide good representation for the people of Kansas, the current process primarily is focused on preserving election bases for incumbents and punishing the minority party. When it also is clear that the process and bad feelings of redistricting hinder the Legislature's ability to conduct other business, it is time for change.

The plan proposed last summer may not be the ultimate answer, but it already is receiving favorable reviews from legislative leaders. Now, while the memory of last year's redistricting fiasco is fresh in our memories, is the time to deal with the issue.

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