Topeka A group of lawmakers endorsed new maps for Kansas Senate districts Friday, setting the stage for a vote next week as the deadline for approving the maps grows closer.
The Senate Reapportionment Committee endorsed the new districts, along with new lines for the 10 State Board of Education seats. The measure also includes changes already approved by the Kansas House to its 125 districts. Three committee members voted against the map, led by Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, who criticized how western Kansas was divvied up.
The Grinnell Republican represents the 40th District of northwest Kansas, the largest in the state in numbers of counties and square miles. The map endorsed Friday makes that worse, collapsing a district now held by Democrat Sen. Allan Schmidt of Hays and giving Ostmeyer more land to cover.
"This committee's got to be kidding me," he said, noting that it would take more than three hours to get from the proposed western boundary with Colorado to the eastern edge in Jewell County along the Nebraska border.
"You can walk your district in a day," Ostmeyer said. "I think this is wrong."
Legislators are facing a May 10 deadline to approve the new maps, which reflect population changes in the 2010 census. If the deadline is missed, it is likely the June candidate filing deadline and August primary dates will have to be moved.
Chairman Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican, said the committee would work on finishing a proposal for redrawing the state's four U.S. House districts next week.
The Senate hasn't approved a plan for adjusting the lines of members' districts to account for shifts in the state's population over the past decade. Conservative and moderate Republicans accuse one another of trying to gain an advantage in GOP primary contests that will determine whether moderates continue to lead the Senate's GOP majority.
The stalemate also has kept the Senate from voting on a bipartisan plan approved by the House in February to redraw state representatives' districts. Each chamber has passed a congressional redistricting bill but killed the other chamber's plan.
House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, has said he would consider taking a look at the Senate map if it didn't pass that chamber with a large margin similar to the one when the House passed its new districts.
Senators are hoping O'Neal and the House honor the tradition that each chamber defers to the other on their respective maps.
"That's the way it has always been done," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat and member of the redistricting committee.
Owens said he understood Ostmeyer's objections about the district size, but that the only alternative would have been to merge a district in south-central Kansas that would have pitted two Republican incumbents in the August primary.
"I do appreciate your concerns. We're not going to please everybody. I wish we could," Owens said.