Proposed bill would influence redistricting in Nebraska

Redistricting in Nebraska may significantly change if one senator’s bill becomes law.

Sen. John Murante is proposing LB 580, which would create an Independent Redistricting Citizens Advisory Commission that would assist legislators when deciding on redistricting.

The commission would assist legislators when redistricting involves the following: U.S. House districts, legislative districts, state board of education districts, University of Nebraska Board of Regents districts, Supreme Court judicial districts and Public Service Commission districts. If the bill becomes law, the commission would be operational beginning in 2021. Legislators reconsider the districts every 10 years, so a committee would be created every 10 years.

The goal of the bill, Murante said, is to try to minimize the role of party politics in redistricting.

“The primary goal is to create an independent redistricting commission to limit the amount of partisanship in the redistricting process and to make redistricting as fair as possible for all Nebraskans,” Murante said.

The office of legislative research’s director of research, or someone that the director appoints, will serve as a liaison between the Unicameral and the commission.

The commission will provide six bills concerning redistricting plans to the director who would then provide the bills to the Unicameral, where the bills would be voted on. The main guidelines specify that districts should have equal populations in accordance with constitutional requirements. The bill would also prohibit the commission or the director to take into consideration political party affiliation of registered voters or to consider past election results.

While the original copy of the bill said the redistricting committee would consist of six people, Murante said this was an error in the drafting of the legislation: “It will almost certainly be nine people,” he said.

The Unicameral is composed of three caucuses for various activities based mostly on geography, and each caucus will be able to select three people for the committee. According to the bill, the officially non-political caucuses may appoint no more than two people of the same political party.

To be eligible to become a member of the commission, a person must be a Nebraska resident, registered to vote, cannot be a registered lobbyist now or in the past 12 months, cannot hold public office, cannot be someone with a position in a political party here in the state or across the country and cannot be running for office. Individuals also cannot have changed the political party he or she is registered with in the last year.

John Hibbing, professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said the power of the Unicameral will likely diminish as a result of redistricting.

“It would diminish the influence of the state legislature substantially, which I think is the intent,” Hibbing said. “Of course, if you diminish the influence of the state legislature, you are probably diminishing the influence of the Republican party, just because the fact Republicans tend to dominate the state legislature and look like they will for the foreseeable future.”

Gavin Geis, executive director of Common Cause Nebraska, said while he would like to see some minor changes to the bill, redistricting reform is necessary in Nebraska.

“We think independent redistricting reform is important for Nebraska for a few different reasons,” he said, calling trust one of them. “At the end of the day, we want a process where people can feel assured that when they go to vote, they are picking their legislators, and it is not their legislators that pick them during the redistricting process.”

Murante said he is hopeful Nebraska can become an example for other states if the bill passes.

“I think that it is something that will improve the redistricting process in Nebraska, and it’s my hope that we can get it done and that we be a model for other states in drafting non-partisan redistricting commissions around the country,” he said.

Read more at the Daily Nebraskan.