Congressional redistricting plan amended, advanced

Senators amended and re-advanced a bill that would redraw boundary lines for the state’s three congressional districts May 24.

As amended on general file, LB704 would have placed all of Merrick County in Congressional District 3 to avoid dividing the county between districts. That change increased the overall population deviation in the Redistricting Committee’s proposal from zero to 0.06 percent.

Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh offered an amendment on select file May 23, adopted 36-10, which altered boundary lines slightly. The amendment would move a small portion of Gage County from District 3 to District 1 and place the entire cities of Papillion and La Vista in District 2.

Lautenbaugh said the change reflected concerns raised by opponents during general file debate regarding population deviations and division of cities in Sarpy County under the committee’s proposal. He said the new map would lower the overall deviation back to zero and avoid dividing the cities of Bellevue, Papillion and La Vista.

“I think [this map] addresses the two main concerns that were voiced last week,” he said.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist supported the amendment, saying it would result in two congressional representatives who are “Offutt-smart” and could protect the air force base from any future attempts to close it.

Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery opposed the amendment, saying it would unnecessarily dilute the voting strength of the minority voting population of District 2 by moving approximately 8,645 minority citizens to District 1.

“It is not legal to draw a map that dilutes the voting strength of any minority population,” he said.

Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber offered an amendment that would have shifted Saline County from District 3 to District 1. He said the change would correct a wrong from the last round of redistricting in 2001.

“My point on this is to put Saline County back in the 1st Congressional District where I feel it should have been 10 years ago,” he said.

Karpisek’s amendment instead would have divided Colfax County between the 1st and 3rd congressional districts in order to achieve population equality among the districts.

“We’re going to have to see a county split one way or the other if we’re going to get to zero deviation,” he said.

Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar supported the Karpisek amendment, saying it would move far fewer Nebraskans to new congressional districts than the committee’s proposal.

“Every time you separate someone from an elected official that they’ve gotten to know … you’re breaking part of the political process. I think it’s important to displace as few people as possible from their current elected officials,” he said.

The amendment failed 16-28. Karpisek offered a motion to reconsider the vote, saying the amendment had not been fully considered at the time that the initial vote was taken. The motion was defeated 16-31.

Omaha Sen. Heath Mello also offered an alternative map, which he said was the base map drawn by the Legislature’s nonpartisan office of legislative research. The map was similar to the committee proposal but kept most areas of Papillion, La Vista and Bellevue in Congressional District 2.

Mello said drawing district lines is the most partisan project undertaken by the officially nonpartisan Legislature, and should be done in a way that is not subject to the influence of the state’s governor, congressional delegation or political parties.

Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln supported Mello’s amendment, saying those opposed to the committee’s proposal had been left out of the process. A redistricting proposal should reflect the concerns of both sides of the political spectrum, she said.

“The state of Nebraska is turning its back on 40 years of redistricting history,” Conrad said. “Why? The only answer is because of partisan advantage.”

The Mello amendment failed on a 14-30 vote.

After five hours of discussion, Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler offered a motion to invoke cloture and cease debate. The motion was adopted on a 33-15 vote and LB704 advanced from select file on a 36-10 vote.

Langemeier offered a motion May 24 to return LB704 to select file for consideration of an amendment.

The amendment would return two small portions of Gage County to District 3 and move an area in Dixon County around the city of Emerson to the 1st District. Langemeier said the changes would preserve the goal of zero deviation and have clearer boundary lines.

Sen. Norm Wallman of Cortland supported the amendment, saying the new map would follow existing boundary lines along roads, rather than create arbitrary divisions by “plucking parts out of Gage County.”

Senators voted 40-1 to return the bill to select file and adopted the amendment 39-1.

Lawmakers re-advanced LB704 to final reading by voice vote.

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