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Legislature approves redistricting reform plan

Legislature approves redistricting reform plan

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Redistricting reform legislation designed to distance state senators from drawing politically charged congressional and legislative district maps jumped a last-ditch filibuster Wednesday and was enacted on a 29-15 vote.

The bill (LB580) goes on to Gov. Pete Ricketts for his consideration and appears to face an uncertain fate.

Several members of the Legislature privately confided that some of their colleagues were receiving text messages from the governor's office expressing opposition to some of the bill's provisions during Wednesday's debate.

Ricketts declined to express any opinion about the bill during a recent news conference.

The reform legislation, a product of several years of cooperative negotiation by Sen. John Murante of Gretna, a Republican, and Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, a Democrat, would create an independent citizens commission to draw the maps defining a number of governing districts.

Those redistricting maps then would be submitted to the Legislature for its consideration. The bill's provisions would become operative in 2021 following the 2020 U.S. Census.

Several senators recalled redistricting decisions by the Legislature in 2011 that resulted in personal disputes and some rancor among senators over their legislative district boundaries and a congressional redistricting map that was purposely drawn to benefit the Republican Party in metropolitan Omaha's 2nd Congressional District.

"Trust me," Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha told new senators. "About 20 people (senators) were happy and 29 not so happy in 2011."

In the 2nd District, he said, "lines were drawn to make it almost impossible for an incumbent Republican to be beat," with Gov. Dave Heineman among those who were involved in shaping the new congressional district maps.

"Well, that didn't work," Krist noted.

Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford ousted incumbent Republican Rep. Lee Terry in 2014.

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Mello described the current system as "a very broken process" that was "very partisan" in 2011.

Murante said the bill would "make the redistricting process better."

Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion led opposition to the bill, describing it as "a stinker" and "a pile of manure."

Twice during the debate, Kintner raised the possibility of a gubernatorial veto, but said he didn't know what Ricketts might choose to do with the bill.

"What exactly is the problem we're trying to solve?" he asked.

The proposed commission would be composed of five members of the party that won the most recent gubernatorial election and four members of the other political party. They would submit proposed redistricting maps to the Legislature for its approval or disapproval, following a number of criteria that include achieving relative population equality and respecting county lines whenever possible.

The cloture vote to end the filibuster required 33 votes and was approved on a 35-11 vote. The bill was enacted on a 29-15 vote.

Thirty votes would be required to override a veto if the governor chooses to apply one.

All of the votes to sustain the filibuster and reject passage of the bill were cast by senators who are Republicans. The four senators who were present, but not voting, on final passage are Republicans.  

Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins attempted to amend the bill, stripping it of most of its provisions and substituting language providing for a winner-take-all system of awarding Nebraska's presidential electoral votes.

A bill to move away from Nebraska's hybrid system of awarding electoral votes by congressional district and statewide fell one vote short of clearing a filibuster on Tuesday.

Bloomfield said the new redistricting process would "give the minority party more power" than it now can exercise in redistricting decisions by the nonpartisan Legislature, which contains far more members who are Republicans than Democrats.

"It's a power grab by big-city politicians and their cronies," Bloomfield said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or

On Twitter @LJSDon.


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