Dixon proposes removing judges from redistricting process

Missourians would be asked in November to take judges out of the process of drawing new legislative districts, under a constitutional amendment proposed by state Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield.

Dixon introduced a similar bill last year, but it never was debated by the full Senate.

“Every 10 years, we find problems with the system,” he told the News Tribune. “I don’t want to wait until it’s a crisis for us to fix it.”

Missouri’s Constitution requires congressional and state legislative district boundaries to be redrawn every 10 years, after the official U.S. census numbers report the changes in the state’s population.

Lawmakers change the congressional district boundaries, but two commissions are formed to redraw the state House and Senate districts.

Under the state Constitution, the Supreme Court appoints a panel of six appeals court judges to take over that job if the commission can’t meet its constitutional deadlines.

Dixon told members of the Senate’s Financial & Governmental Organizations and Elections Committee Monday afternoon that the proposed amendment “makes some very necessary changes to increase transparency and clarity in the redistricting process. Very specifically, it removes the appellate judges as redistricting commissioners.”

In 2011, neither the House nor Senate commission completed the task, and the Supreme Court appointed the same six judges to redraw the House and Senate districts.

But those maps were challenged in court.

The House map eventually was upheld, but the task of drawing the Senate map was sent back to a second citizens commission.

“We want to strengthen the commission process so it works better (the first time),” Dixon said.

His proposal also would “strengthen the conflict of interest provisions,” making it clear that lawmakers and their staff members can’t serve on a panel, and prohibiting a commission member from running for a legislative seat for at least 10 years.

The current constitutional language prohibits commission members from serving in the General Assembly “for four years following the date of the filing by the commission of its final statement of apportionment.”

But, Dixon noted, that ban is triggered only if the commission submits a final report, and doesn’t apply if the commissioners fail to redraw the district borders.

The current Constitution also requires the two commissions to hold at least three public hearings, and allows them to schedule executive sessions “as often as the commission deems advisable.”

Critics of the 2011 process complained that, when judges took over for the citizens’ panels, the judges held no public meetings.

“We want to make it very clear that, for the purposes we’re talking about, the Sunshine Law would apply,” Dixon explained. “I think that’s really a no-brainer, as far as good government goes.

“I think it’s a reasonable proposal, that would go a long way to strengthen the process (and) make it less of a convoluted process.”

No one spoke for or against the amendment during Monday afternoon’s hearing.

If the House and Senate ultimately agree, the proposal would be placed on the Nov. 4 statewide ballot for voters’ approval.

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