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Panel working to draw new state Senate districts

A bipartisan state commission met behind closed doors Wednesday, attempting to draw new Missouri Senate districts.

Commission members met in a state government building about a block from the Capitol. Shortly after the meeting started, commissioners separated to hold private discussions about proposals. The full panel reconvened in public twice Wednesday and said additional time was warranted for the caucusing to continue into the evening.

The 10-member commission is responsible for redrawing the boundaries of the 34-member Missouri Senate.

Time is running short to develop new Senate districts. Under Missouri law, candidates for this year’s elections can begin filing for office next Tuesday, though legislation to create some breathing room by delaying the filing period has passed the Senate and is pending in the House. The Missouri secretary of state’s office has said if new Senate districts are not approved before candidate filing, election officials would use the current map that was developed after the 2000 census.

This is the second attempt to develop new Senate districts based on the 2010 census.

Last year, a bipartisan redistricting commission that included some different members from this year’s commission failed to agree on a new Senate map. A special panel of appellate judges then handled the task. But the Missouri Supreme Court rejected that map in January, and lawmakers started from scratch, first appointing a new commission.

Since Saturday, the most recent bipartisan commission has met five times, including public hearings in Jefferson City, Kansas City and St. Louis.

Former Democratic lawmaker Doug Harpool has led both bipartisan Senate redistricting commissions. He said Wednesday that progress is being made and Democrats are willing to continue exchanging ideas.

“We’ve made more progress today in five hours or six hours than the entire time last time. So I’m encouraged,” Harpool said.

Republican Cole County Commissioner Marc Ellinger, the vice chairman of the redistricting panel, said it makes sense to continue working into the evening and “seeing if we can continue our progress, because we feel like we are moving forward.”

State legislative districts are redrawn each decade based on the most recent census. The number of state House and Senate districts does not change, but the boundaries must be adjusted to account for population shifts, such as growth in southwestern Missouri and the outer St. Louis suburbs and declines in St. Louis County and city.

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