State Senate to tackle redistricting

Leaders to introduce map to redraw four congressional districts

By Bill Felber

Kansas Senate leaders said Monday that they will introduce a new proposal for redrawing the state’s four Congressional districts which will keep Manhattan in the Second District without other steps that have sidetracked redistricting progress since January.

Senate President Steve Morris and Majority Leader Jay Emler also said they will introduce a proposal to place future redistricting decisions in the hands of a non-partisan commission rather than the Legislature.

“We have a couple of good maps that keep Manhattan in the Second District but don’t move Wyandotte County into the First District and don’t split Topeka,” Morris told The Mercury. He did not get into details on how those maps would work.

The Legislature foundered through February and March on the redistricting question. The Senate initially passed a map moving Manhattan into the First District. The House approved its own map keeping Manhattan in the Second District, but splitting Shawnee County and Topeka between the First and Second District. It did so after rejecting equally controversial proposals to move the Kansas City area into a district that also includes western Kansas.

Lawmakers are required to redraw the state’s districts because the current western Kansas First District has around 70,000 fewer people than it should have, while the Kansas City area Third District has around 70,000 too many.

Emler said the proposal for a commission to take on future redistricting questions was designed to “put somebody in charge other than politicians.” He conceded, however, that he was not confident about getting such a proposal through the House. He said 21 states presently employ commissions to do their redistricting.

Choosing a redistricting map and approving the budget are the two things the legislature is required to get done. If either of those items is not done within the session’s last 18 days, legislators have to approve a resolution to extend the time. If the budget Is not approved, a government shutdown would occur. If redistricting is not completed, that task would be taken on by the courts. That happened in 1982.

Morris said he thought it was unlikely that any of the major tax or school reforms proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback will be taken up during the wrapup session, which begins on Wednesday. “I’m not sure the support in the Senate is there for something drastic,” he said.

The Senate president, leader of the Legislature’s “moderate” faction, made it clear he is not counting on support from the “conservative” faction in getting things done. “There’s no sugar coating it…it’s very ugly,” he said of relations between the two Republican factions.

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