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Perspective: Out of the gate

by State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, Mo. | January 16, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

It's once again January, and the Missouri General Assembly is back at work. The first week and a half in the Missouri Senate has already provided us with challenges and opportunities right out of the gate. The discussion has been largely concentrated on congressional redistricting and approving the supplementary budget.

We began the redistricting process under a time crunch. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau was forced to delay the delivery of census numbers to the states. Originally planned to be available on March 31, 2021, the data wasn't delivered to us until September of last year. That put us on a compressed timeline for redistricting.

Luckily, we did not lose any congressional seats this cycle. Ten years ago, Missouri was left with eight congressional seats for nine sitting representatives. It resulted in a game of political musical chairs, and one representative effectively lost his district.

Typically, congressional redistricting is debated and passed during a special session sometime in the fall. With the late delivery of the census data, the governor did not call a special session last year, and we are now having to take up the redistricting process during the regular legislative session.

This, of course, has resulted in an extra layer of complexity to the normal business of the legislative session. We have worked to craft a map that meets the requirements of both federal law and the Missouri Constitution. The congressional districts must be as nearly equal in population as possible, they have to be contiguous and as compact as possible, and they are prohibited from denying or abridging any citizen's right to vote based on race or color. This essentially means we need to try to keep counties whole, cities whole, and communities whole if at all possible, and we group people of similar interests and values together so as not to dilute their voices.

It seems to be tempting to some to redraw districts based entirely on partisan considerations, however, the danger in doing so is that if the maps we pass don't meet the federal or state requirements, it will leave the redistricting plan open to lawsuits, which would likely lead to the districts being drawn by judges rather than by the Legislature.

We have already begun work on the supplemental budget, which includes almost $2 billion for Missouri public schools. The proposed budget also includes a 5 percent cost-of-living raise for our state workers. Our state has languished at or near the bottom of the nation for employee compensation, and it is past time to give our state workers a raise. Competition for workers is more intense than any time in my memory, and inflation has skyrocketed under the current presidential administration. It is necessary and right that we pay our state employees a living wage.

These two bills are in addition to all our normal responsibilities and legislation. We're considering bills to strengthen the protection of life in our state, bills to stand up for parents' rights in our education system, and legislation to help farmers and small businesses weather the storm brought on by the president's agenda. I am excited to get back to doing the work that will continue to make our state stronger and more prosperous.

State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, represents Missouri's 6th District and shares his perspective on statehouse issues twice a month.

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