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Senator wants Missourians to modify redistricting rules

Senator wants Missourians to modify redistricting rules

February 20th, 2013 in News

After lawmakers, other politicians and some political observers complained about the state redistricting process that ended about a year ago, one state senator has renewed his effort to change some of it.

"What we're attempting to do is close some loopholes," Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, told the Senate's Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics Committee on Tuesday afternoon, "take care of some obvious oversights, offer greater transparency and accountability and make sure that the "Sunshine Law' applies to the process."

Dixon said his proposed amendment to Missouri's Constitution would create "some clarity, some consistent constitutional rules (and) get rid of some murky language and unclear statutes."

He proposed a similar amendment last year, and it cleared the Senate but never was debated in the House.

The Constitution requires new district boundaries to be drawn every 10 years - after Missouri's numbers from the U.S. Census have been reported to the president.

State lawmakers are required to draw the new congressional district borders, while two, separate residents commissions are created to redo the state House and Senate boundaries.

The governor names those residents from lists of names provided by the chairs of the two statewide political parties casting the most votes in the most recent governor's election.

The committee redrawing state House districts has two members for each congressional district, while the committee drawing new state Senate boundaries has 10 members. In both cases, the committees are split evenly between the two parties.

Both are required to hold public hearings to take residents' comments.

To become effective, each committee's final maps must be approved by at least seven-tenths of its members.

If a committee fails, its work is turned over to a panel of six appeals court judges chosen by the Missouri Supreme Court, with at least four of the six judges agreeing on a final map for it to become effective.

But the Constitution doesn't set out other specific requirements for the judges' work - and that's one of the things Dixon wants to fix.

In 2011, one six-judge panel took over both maps after neither the House nor Senate residents commissions produced a map.

Although the two residents' panels held open meetings, the judges' deliberations were done in closed meetings.

Dixon's proposed amendment would require "all meetings, executive meetings, actions, hearings, and business of any commission created under this section (to) be open to the public."

No senator asked Dixon any questions about his proposal during the committee hearing - and no one stepped forward to speak for, or against, his amendment.

He later told the News Tribune: "I would like to see the process cleaned up, streamlined and bring some sunshine to it before we get ourselves in the process again.

"It's every 10 years, so my effort here really is to be proactive for the next time."

Under the current constitutional language, residents who serve on either committee are prohibited from running for a legislative office for four years "following the date of the filing by the commission of its final statement of apportionment."

Dixon noted one of his changes would make that ban 10 years on running for the state House or Senate - and that it would be effective even if the commission failed to draw a new map.

His amendment also prohibits current lawmakers and their employees from serving on either commission.