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Archive for Friday, March 28, 2003

Redistricting amendment likely to fail

Measure appears to be headed short of needed two-thirds Senate majority

March 28, 2003

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— An effort to give voters an opportunity to change the way Kansas draws its political boundaries appears doomed for this legislative session.

A proposed constitutional amendment backed by Republican and Democratic legislative leaders was advanced Thursday in the Senate to a final vote by a 20-17 majority, but 27 votes are needed to keep the proposal alive.

Amending the Kansas Constitution requires two-thirds approval in both the Senate and House before it can be placed before voters.

Supporters of the proposal said it would remove self-serving political interests from redistricting -- the once-a-decade process of redrawing legislative, congressional and State Board of Education boundaries to accommodate population changes.

A prime example of how politics ruled the redistricting process occurred last year when the Legislature split Lawrence between two congressional districts despite the objections of local officials, state Sen. Derek Schmidt said. Schmidt, R-Independence, is a co-author of the proposed constitutional amendment.

"The community said, 'This is what we want,' and the Legislature said, 'So what?'" Schmidt said.

Under the measure, a commission would be selected to propose new redistricting maps for the Legislature to consider. If the Legislature rejected three proposals, the new districts would be drawn by the Kansas Supreme Court.

Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, reminded lawmakers of last year's vicious redistricting battles, which helped prolong the session to a record 107 days.

"It was by far the most contentious, divisive session that I have ever experienced," said Kerr, a 19-year legislative veteran.

But opponents of the measure said lawmakers would be abdicating their responsibility if they moved the process to a commission.

"Is it proper to blame the process for our own human errors?" asked state Sen. Jim Barone, D-Frontenac.

The amendment tentatively is scheduled to come up for a final vote today, but supporters say they're unlikely to change the minds of enough senators in order to gain the necessary two-thirds majority. A similar bill in the House has not yet reached the floor.

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