The Legislature broke the back of a five-hour Democratic filibuster Monday and sent a Republican-friendly congressional redistricting plan on its way toward final approval.
Prior to pushing the proposal over its second-stage floor hurdle, Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha won approval of an amendment that tweaks some boundaries to achieve virtually absolute population equality among the three House districts.
The change assures that all of Bellevue will be moved from metropolitan Omaha's 2nd District into the 1st District, anchored by Lincoln, and all of Papillion and La Vista will be sited in the 2nd District, Lautenbaugh said.
That meets the desired standard of adhering to city and precinct boundaries, he said. Then, in order to meet the goal of absolute population equality, Lautenbaugh said, a couple of small slices of northern Gage County were returned to the 1st District, while the bulk of the county moves to the 3rd.
Lautenbaugh's amendment was adopted on a 36-10 vote, and the bill, LB704, was advanced on a 34-14 count.
But the key vote came earlier on a cloture motion to end a daylong filibuster initiated by Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, who fought to return Saline County to the 1st District. His southeastern Nebraska county was moved into the 3rd District 10 years ago, apparently in an effort to bury its traditionally Democratic vote in an ocean of Republican support.
The cloture motion was approved on a 33-15 party-line vote.
The redistricting plan will move Bellevue and Offutt Air Force Base from their 2nd District moorings into the 1st District while transferring the Republican-rich rural and suburban swath of western Sarpy County from the 1st District to the 2nd.
That change will increase the Republican edge over Democrats in Nebraska's only competitive House district by 1,500 or more, with the likelihood that advantage will continue to grow.
The plan also moves Platte County (Columbus) from the 3rd District to the 1st while transferring almost all of Gage County (Beatrice) from the 1st to the 3rd.
Western and central Nebraska's vast 3rd District will spread border to border, encompassing South Sioux City on the north and Falls City on the south.
Although Monday's action would appear to negate any court challenges based on population disparity, Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln said the plan is open to a court test over "the dilution of the voting strength of the minority population."
Moving Offutt Air Force Base and its surroundings will transfer an estimated 8,645 minority citizens from the Omaha district into the Lincoln district, Avery said.
"I believe that will be challenged in court," he said.
Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha offered a map prepared by the legislative research staff as a starting point for redistricting decisions as an alternative proposal, but it was rejected.
There is no nonpolitical rationale for moving 226,000 Nebraskans into different congressional districts as the Lautenbaugh plan proposes, he said.
During the debate, Lautenbaugh said a Journal Star column item stating that the Nebraska Republican Party was listed as a client on a redistricting mapmaking software site was misleading and inaccurate.
The party was listed as a client on the site of Maptitude for Redistricting, but Lautenbaugh said the Nebraska GOP has not been a client since 2001.