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Two bills to curb gerrymandering heard by state legislators

LINCOLN–Two bills intended to curb gerrymandering were heard by the Legislature’s Executive Board at the Capitol this week.

Legislative Bill 974, introduced by Sen. Tony Vargas, and LB 975, introduced by Sen. Sara Howard, both of Omaha, would prohibit the use of certain data and establish timeline requirements when redrawing legislative and congressional maps.

If passed, the new guidelines, and practices that have largely been rule-based under the special Redistricting Committee would become law.

Under LB 974 the Redistricting Committee would be barred from using registered voters’ political affiliations, demographic information–besides population–or past election results when redrawing districts.

Vargas testified at the Feb. 5 hearing that the bill is intended to remove partisanship and political biases from the process.

“I think stating as a body we are trying to remove bias is a step in the right direction,” he said, referring to the Legislature. He said that the language in the bill is itself free of partisanship, and it emphasizes the importance of redistricting in a fair manner.

Various groups testified in support of LB 974 supporting the idea that it would remove partisanship while simultaneously protecting equity in the process.

Jack Gould, issues chair at Common Cause Nebraska, stated his organization supports legislation that represents the true interests of the public.

“We don’t want anyone taken advantage of by a political party…during the redistricting process,” he said.

Additionally, Common Cause Nebraska, the Lincoln YWCA, the ACLU, Civic Nebraska and the Nebraska Farmers Union testified in support of the bill.

No opponents testified against LB 974.

Howard’s bill, LB 975, dubbed the Redistricting Act, would direct the state to draw districts “using state-issued computer software and politically neutral criteria.”

The criteria mirror those outlined in LB 974, but the bill also states that redrawing electoral boundaries should consider district populations, shared district borders and, when applicable, shared county and municipal lines.

The Redistricting Act would retain the Redistricting Committee and establish time requirements for map submissions. It also would direct the Legislature to provide maps to the public and hold a minimum of one public hearing in each district to collect citizen feedback.

“[This] is nonpartisan and allows all parties to work together for redistricting.” Howard said, of the Redistricting Act. The bill is based on Iowa’s redistricting legislation that has contributed to a more competitive and fair election process, she said.

Howard’s Redistricting Act received identical support from LB 974’s proponents.

John Hansen, Nebraska Farmers Union president, said he supports LB 975 because it’s a means to maintain public confidence in the government and the process of redistricting.

“Anything we can do to keep [the] perception above reproach is all very important these days,” he said. “I’m a very strong advocate for our unicameral system, and it pains me to hear the public’s loss of confidence in the government.”

No opponents testified against the Redistricting Act.

LB 974 and LB 975 join LB 653 and Legislative Resolution 289CA for consideration during the 2018 legislative session. If passed all bills would establish redistricting guidelines amid a larger national debate on gerrymandering.

Pennsylvania courts ruled Jan. 22 that its lawmakers must redraw congressional maps because it was found to violate the state’s constitution. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear similar cases from Wisconsin and North Carolina.

The Executive Board took no immediate action on LB 974 or LB 975.




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