Bill would create redistricting commission

Redistricting in Nebraska would be the responsibility of an independent commission under a bill heard Feb. 7 by the Executive Board.

Currently, the Legislature is responsible for drawing new governmental boundaries every 10 years after the decennial census for districts pertaining to the U.S. House of Representatives, the Legislature, Public Service Commission, University of Nebraska Board of Regents and the state Board of Education.

LB976, introduced by Wilber Sen. Russ Karpisek, would create an Independent Redistricting Advisory Commission. Two commission members of different party affiliation would be chosen by each congressional legislative caucus and subject to approval by the full Legislature.

Under the bill, membership would be restricted to Nebraska citizens who have been registered to vote for at least one year. Registered lobbyists, public or political officeholders or their relatives would be prohibited from serving on the commission.

Commission members also would be prohibited from participating in political campaigns or running for or holding an office within the commission’s redistricting authority for two years.

Karpisek said the Legislature’s process has become overly partisan and that votes strictly followed party lines during the last round of redistricting in 2011.

“We’re supposed to be a nonpartisan Legislature, so let’s act like it and lead by example,” he said.

John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, testified in support of the bill. He said senators appear to be having greater difficulty avoiding partisanship in the Nebraska Legislature, which may impact how citizens view the redistricting process.

“Those of us who have been public officials know that the perception of impropriety is as damaging and toxic to a reputation as actual impropriety,” Hansen said.

Jean Henry Seibel of Bellevue also testified in support, calling the bill a “sensible solution” to how best to accomplish redistricting in Nebraska.

“Sen. Karpisek has crafted a fair and impartial strategy to make this constitutional mandate more objective and transparent,” she said.

The committee voted 6-0 to advance LB976 to general file.

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