Redistricting panel rejects public meetings

COLUMBIA (AP) — A panel of Missouri appeals judges that is responsible for drawing districts for the state Legislature does not plan to hold public meetings while it reaches a decision on a new map.

Western District Court of Appeals Judge Lisa White Hardwick, who is the chairwoman of the redistricting commission, said members serving on the panel do not think the commission is required to meet in public sessions.

“The commission has taken the position that we are not going to operate in public session,” Hardwick said. “Our job is to produce two maps, and that is what we are doing at this point.”

Missouri’s public meetings and documents law, frequently referred to as the Sunshine Law, requires public bodies to post notices of their meetings. The meetings are supposed to start in a session that is open to the public, but meetings can be closed for discussions of some topics, such as litigation or personnel issues.

That law applies to legislative, administrative or governmental bodies created by state law, the Missouri Constitution or by local ordinances.

Missouri Solicitor General Jim Layton, who serves as the legal adviser for the judicial redistricting panel, said the commission is exempt from the Sunshine Law because the state constitution allows state redistricting panels to hold executive meetings as frequently as desired. Layton would not say when or how frequently the judicial commission has met, though he said he assumed there have been “meetings of some sort.”

New legislative districts are being developed by a panel of six appeals court judges because state redistricting commissions with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats deadlocked this summer.

The judges are to complete the map by mid-December for the 163 Missouri House districts and 34 Missouri Senate districts.

Congressional and state legislative districts are redrawn each decade after the census. Missouri’s population has grown by about 7 percent, but the growth has not been equally distributed. The southwest corner of the state and the outer St. Louis suburbs have been among the fastest-growing areas, while St. Louis and St. Louis County have each lost population since 2000.

Serving on the judicial commission are three judges appointed by Democratic governors: Hardwick and Robert G. Dowd Jr., from the Eastern District, and Nancy Steffen Rahmeyer, from the Southern District. The other three members were appointed by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt: Don E. Burrell Jr., from the Southern District, Roy L. Richter, from the Eastern District, and James E. Welsh, from the Western District.

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