By Steve Scharf
Nebraska News Service
LINCOLN—The mood in last Wednesday’s Redistricting Committee hearing was relaxed, with senators rocking in their chairs and only the occasional small spat of pointed disagreement.
The May 4 vote on legislative districts, in which all voted “yes” except Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha and Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, both of whom abstained, indicates the senators have generally reached consensus on proposed changes to district boundaries.
In what was essentially the final committee vote on changes to legislative boundaries for the state, the lawmakers voted to merge separate maps with changes to Lincoln, Omaha and western Nebraska districts into one statewide map that will be presented for public review.
The finalized district map includes moving District 49, which encompasses a large swath of the Nebraska panhandle, into Sarpy County, which is part of the Omaha metro area.
The current District 49 counties will be incorporated into districts 43 and 47.
The committee also approved district lines for the State Board of Education and University Board of Regents.
The proposed maps are expected to be shown to the public on May 13 during a teleconference public hearing with various communities across the state.
Several senators expressed reservations with the final state legislative district map. Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha said he was concerned with District 10’s extension to the north of Douglas County, as the enlarged district boundaries conflict with a guiding legislative resolution encouraging the committee to maintain districts along county lines where possible.
Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln asked why Nebraska City would be divided between two districts. “So there’s a community of interest north and south of Highway 2 [in Nebraska City]?” he rhetorically asked his colleagues on the committee.
When asked about the committee meetings, senators were quick to note the progress they have made along with the necessity to compromise in what is inherently a political process.
“No one is ever going to be completely happy,” Dubas said. “But we’re making progress.” Under the proposed changes, Dubas’s District 34 will include more of Grand Island.
Committee Chairman Chris Langemeier of Schuyler said he was pleased with the progress the committee had made and said the map was generally complete, give or take a few small changes. As committee chairman, Langemeier is responsible for keeping the committee on schedule. He encouraged the senators to vote today instead of delaying a vote.
While expressing specific reservations about the final map, senators on the committee voted to finalize it for public hearing, while noting further changes can and probably will be made when the map is debated before the full legislative chamber.
Jack Gould, state issues director for Nebraska Common Cause, attended the redistricting hearings as part of Common Cause’s effort to ensure the redistricting process is open to the public.
“Well, from a Common Cause perspective our cause has always been to make sure it’s open, so the public can see what’s going on and that the maps are available as soon as possible,” he said. “So far, this is about as open I’ve seen it.”
“There will be politics, and nobody will be happy, but the press and public have have more access than they’ve ever had before,” he said.