Deadline approaching fast for Nebraska district proposals
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers worked under a fast-approaching deadline to come up with new political maps that they’ll consider in a special session beginning next week, but they didn’t offer any specific plans Tuesday for redrawing legislative and congressional districts.
Members of the Legislature’s Redistricting Committee spent the day answering questions from other lawmakers and toiling behind the scenes on individual maps for the panel to consider.
The committee faces a Friday deadline to release its proposed maps to the public, an unusually tight time window caused by the delay of U.S. census population numbers due to the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers and their staffs have been working late into the night off of one of just two state-owned computers to create maps ahead of the special session, which begins Monday. Individual lawmakers can also draft their own proposals, potentially complicating an already partisan process.
“This is not an ideal situation,” said Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, of Omaha, the committee’s chairwoman.
The high-stakes, once-a-decade ritual will determine the shape of Nebraska’s legislative and congressional boundaries, as well as districts for the Nebraska Supreme Court, Nebraska Public Service Commission, State Board of Education and University of Nebraska Board of Regents.
Based on the census data, rural Nebraska is likely to lose at least one, and possibly two, state legislative seats while the fast-growing Omaha suburbs will pick up at least one. The ideal district size under the new census data is 40,031 residents, and 63% of Nebraska’s districts fall below that number. The three most-populated districts in Nebraska are all in western Omaha and its suburbs.
At least one western Nebraska senator signaled on Tuesday that he wants to preserve as many rural seats as possible in the Legislature. Sen. Steve Erdman, of Bayard, suggested that lawmakers should first divide up the more populated eastern districts among that region’s senators and then move their attention to the more remote west.
The rural-urban population disparities are large enough, however, that political power will almost certainly shift to Nebraska’s larger cities. Linehan said Dodge, Lincoln and Scottsbluff counties lost so much population over the last decade that they won’t be able to remain as stand-alone legislative districts and will have to join with parts of surrounding counties.
In the 2011 redistricting, lawmakers shifted the district of then-state Sen. LeRoy Louden out of northwestern Nebraska and placed it in Gretna, a booming Omaha suburb. Louden, a rancher from Ellsworth — population 32 — continued to answer calls from his original constituents, even though he technically no longer represented them.
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