Hearings begin on redistricting plans, focus on rural representation

The Redistricting Committee heard testimony Sept. 14 on proposed plans to set new state political district boundaries.

Lawmakers are required to redraw districts pertaining to the U.S. House of Representatives, Legislature, Nebraska Supreme Court, Public Service Commission, State Board of Education and University of Nebraska Board of Regents after each decennial federal census.

Most of the testimony at the hearing, held in Grand Island, focused on proposed revisions to legislative district boundaries to account for population changes.

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, the committee’s chairperson, said three legislative districts — 39, 10 and 49, all located in Douglas and Sarpy counties — together have approximately 40,000 residents more than they should if each district were the ideal size.

To even out the districts’ populations, Linehan said, her LB3 would combine existing districts 23 and 24 and create a new District 24 in Sarpy County.

“No one likes change,” she said, “but due to population shifts, changes are necessary.”

Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne’s alternative legislative redistricting plan, contained in LB4, would move District 44 from southwestern Nebraska to southwestern Douglas and western Sarpy counties. In the past, he said, the Legislature has moved districts from western Nebraska with relatively large population losses to areas of significant population growth in the east.

Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango, who represents District 44, said he supports Linehan’s legislative redistricting plan because it “more or less preserves” his district. He said counties in District 44 have a common interest in the Republican River Basin, which is subject to a water usage compact with Colorado and Kansas.

Kathy Wilmot agreed, saying LB4 would split the counties in District 44 among other districts that might not share those same interests. In contrast, she said, Linehan’s plan would shift the district farther to the east but would keep those core counties in the same district.

“It’s critical that we keep a legislator that can speak for us and advocate for our region,” Wilmot said.

Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams said he preferred Wayne’s legislative redistricting plan because it would leave Custer and Dawson counties in District 36, which he represents. Linehan’s plan would split those counties between District 36 and District 43.

Williams said any plan that separates Custer and Dawson counties could disrupt the close ties developed among communities, school districts, business interests and critical access hospitals in District 36.

Danielle Helzer of Grand Island testified in support of Wayne’s legislative redistricting plan as it pertains to districts 33, 34 and 35. She said his proposed District 35 is “the most inclusive map of our community” because it would include a portion of Grand Island with Latino and East African communities within the district’s boundaries.

Helzer opposed Linehan’s proposed map for District 33, which she said would make a significant change by moving the western part of Grand Island from District 34 into District 33 along with Hastings.

Yolanda Chavez Nuncio of Grand Island said Linehan’s proposed legislative redistricting plan would move a part of eastern Grand Island, which has a large Latino population, into another legislative district, which could be confusing to new voters and decrease the voting power of the city’s minority residents.

Adam Jacobs testified in opposition to LB3, which he said would separate Hastings, the Adams County seat, from Adams County.

Jacobs said separating Hastings — the economic, cultural and educational hub of the region — from the rest of the county would be a disservice to Hastings and rural Adams County residents.

The committee took no immediate action on the redistricting proposals.

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