Compromise legislation to distance state senators from congressional and legislative redistricting decisions cleared the Legislature's Executive Board Tuesday and was advanced to the floor for debate.

The bill (LB580) creates an independent citizens commission to craft new districts that provide relative population parity following the 2020 census.

The proposal is the product of almost two years of discussion and compromise by Sen. John Murante of Gretna, a Republican, and Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, a Democrat.

Under it, proposed redistricting plans would be submitted to the Legislature in 2021 for approval or disapproval.

If a redistricting proposal were rejected by the Legislature, the commission would meet again to submit a revised plan.

"That ensures that the Legislature and its staff would never be drawing the maps" that ultimately created the new districts, Mello said.

The legislative research office would be called upon early in the process to prepare maps at the direction of the commission.

The nine-member citizens commission would be composed of five members of one political party and four members of the other. The majority would be composed of members of the party that won the preceding gubernatorial election.

No party officials, officeholders or lobbyists would be eligible to serve on the commission.

Members of the commission would be selected by state senators, who would caucus by congressional district. 

The proposed redistricting plans recommended by the commission would be submitted to the attorney general and the secretary state for formal opinions that assure their constitutionality.

Murante and Mello decided to work together in an effort to take most of the partisan politics out of redistricting decisions made by the nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature.

The political parties and elected partisan officeholders have been particularly engaged in the shadows during reapportionment of Nebraska's congressional districts.

The bill contains a series of guiding principles that the commission would be directed to follow.

Topping the list, which was arranged in order of priorities, was population parity among the districts and adherence to county lines.

Other guiding principles include ensuring that congressional districts are compact and contiguous.

Farther down the list is creation of districts with communities of common interest.

Districts with population deviations nearest to zero is 10th on the list.

However, the bill states that population must be "as nearly equal as practicable," and the measure would establish strict limits on population deviation. 

In the case of legislative districts, population disparity could reach 10 percent. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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