LINCOLN — An independent commission would redraw political maps in 2021 under a plan advanced Tuesday by the Legislature's Executive Board.
The plan represents a compromise reached by State Sens. John Murante of Gretna and Heath Mello of Omaha.
Both lawmakers have a history of political party activism, Murante with the Republicans and Mello with the Democrats.
They offered their proposal as an amendment to Legislative Bill 580, introduced by Murante last year.
"We've really crafted a truly bipartisan proposal to empower Nebraskans and citizens in the redistricting process," Mello said.
The Executive Board members adopted the amendment and sent the bill to the full Legislature on unanimous votes.
Mello said they'll ask that the bill be declared a speaker priority bill, which would allow Speaker of the Legislature Galen Hadley to ensure that the bill is debated this legislative session.
As proposed, an Independent Redistricting Citizen's Advisory Commission would be created the year following each national census.
A special committee of lawmakers handled redistricting in 2011.
Controversy erupted when the resulting maps moved eastern Sarpy County, including Bellevue and Offutt Air Force Base, out of the Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District and moved the Sarpy County communities of La Vista, Papillion and Gretna into the district.
Democrats objected that the change strengthened Republican power in the 2nd district, but they were outvoted in the GOP-dominated Legislature.
Under LB 580, the independent commission would be charged with redrawing political district maps once the census numbers are released.
The Legislature would have the final say by then approving or rejecting the maps. If the maps are rejected, the commission would go back to work on new ones.
Murante said the process would be repeated until lawmakers pass and the governor signs a redistricting plan. If the process is not completed during a regular legislative session, it would have to resume during a special session.
The proposal sets out the criteria that the commission would have to follow in redrawing district lines.
The chief priority would be making the population equal among districts. Other priorities would be following county lines, ensuring that districts comply with federal law and making the districts compact and contiguous.
Four public hearings would be held across the state to gauge what Nebraskans think before the maps are submitted to the Legislature.
The maps would be submitted to the leader of the Legislature's Executive Board, which would introduce a legislative bill for each of the six state and federal offices that require redistricting, including the House of Representatives and Legislature.
The Legislature would then have 10 days to pass a plan before the commission would have to go back to work.
The bill would require formal opinions from the Nebraska Secretary of State and Attorney General regarding the constitutionality of the maps.
The plan also spells out the requirements for membership on the commission.
The commission would have nine members, with no more than five from a single political party. The state's three legislative caucuses, which are based on geographic areas, would each pick three members.
Commission members could not be lobbyists, elected officials or party officials. Relatives or employees of congressional representatives, state elected officials or University of Nebraska employees also would be barred.
Some wonder why the Legislature would act on redistricting now. Murante said he's pushing the bill because "it's good public policy to put down on paper."
Other states, such as Iowa, use such independent commissions.
"I understand full well that the Legislature in 2021 can do what it wants to," Murante said. "Still, I think it's a good framework that we have now created by two members of opposite parties who have no stake in the game."
Added Mello, "I think it instills more trust in the process."
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