Supreme Court, PSC redistricting plans advanced

Lawmakers gave first-round approval Sept. 21 to proposals that would modify district boundaries for the Nebraska Supreme Court and the Public Service Commission.

LB6, introduced by the Redistricting Committee, would set new boundaries for the six judicial districts of the state Supreme Court.

Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop said the proposed maps “pretty much wrote themselves” after accounting for population changes and ensuring that sitting judges would remain in their current districts.

Senators voted 45-0 to advance the bill to select file.

LB5, also introduced by the committee, would set district boundaries for the five Public Service Commission districts. The commission regulates certain aspects of natural gas utilities, railroads and telecommunications carriers, among other industries.

Sen. Michael Flood of Norfolk supported the proposal but said he would have preferred to increase the number of commissioners from five to seven under LB293, a bill he introduced last session.

He said this would have reduced the size of District 5 — which in LB5 would comprise roughly the western two-thirds of the state — to ensure better representation of rural Nebraska’s interests, particularly the expansion of broadband internet service there.

“This is a big area with a lot of needs,” Flood said.

Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist said the committee tried to make as few changes to existing Public Service Commission district boundaries as possible while evening out population numbers and keeping commissioners’ residences in their districts.

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, chairperson of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, said that committee drew maps last session to see how Flood’s proposal would change district size.

Although the measure could have improved representation in the northeast part of the state, Friesen said, it “still left a huge part of Nebraska served by one commissioner.”

LB5 advanced to the second round of debate on a 36-0 vote.

Before the Legislature adjourned for the day, Speaker Mike Hilgers of Lincoln told lawmakers that the Legislature will adjourn sine die if senators do not advance all necessary redistricting bills from general file by Sept. 25.

The Legislature then would restart the redistricting process when it reconvenes for regular session in January, he said, a possibility Hilgers called a “last resort” because it would result in a delay of primary elections next spring.

“If we happen to have one delayed election to get these [boundaries] right for the next 10 years,” he said, “then ultimately that’s the price that we’ll have to pay.”

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