On Feb. 8, the League of Women Voters of Nebraska submitted testimony in support of LB 253, a bill to adopt the Redistricting Act. The executive board will hold its first hearing on this bill at 12 p.m. on Feb. 14 in Room 1525 of the Unicameral.
Download the submitted testimony or read the full text below.
Re: LB 253, Hearing February 14, 2019
Dear Senator Hilgers and Members of the Committee,
Redistricting legislation is critical to open and fair government, so this is one of the most important legislative initiatives before the Nebraska Unicameral. We congratulate Senator McCollister for the introduction of his revision of Senator Harr’s 2017 redistricting bill.
Attached to this letter is a summary of the redistricting structures and process of the four key states selected for analysis in its Redistricting Study adopted by the LWV of Nebraska (2015). How does LB253 compare with these four state redistricting laws?
- Nonpartisan Unicameral: None of these states have unicameral legislatures, so there must be adaptations for Nebraska. For instance, since there are not party caucuses in the legislature, the members of the commission are chosen by parties in the Congressional District Caucuses.
- Non-Partisan Commission: LB253 mandates that the Legislative Research Office (LRO) draws the districts, which is positive. LB253 prescribes a non-partisan commission to conduct and report on four Legislative hearings in the three Congressional Districts. To ensure a non-partisan process, Arizona and California select an equal number of Republican and Democratic members and then one or more Independents, one of whom must be chair. LB253 uses a similar process by mandating that 6 members, one from each party from each of the 3 Congressional Caucuses constitute the Commission. Those 6 members then elect the one non-partisan, who serves as chair.
- Maps Drawn by Non-Partisan Legislative Office: The Iowa system uses the Legislative Services Agency (very similar to the Nebraska’s Legislative Research Office (LRO) to draw the districts. Again, a system very much like one of the outstanding redistricting systems.
- Ignoring Incumbent Addresses: LB253 does not ignore incumbent addresses. The Nebraska Constitutional provides that senators in office after redistricting are allowed to remain in office for the remainder of their terms: “the law providing for such redistricting shall where necessary specify the newly established district which they shall represent for the balance of their term” (Article III, Section 7). This provision creates some problems, because avoiding incumbent addresses may mean drawing new districts only around existing districts. This makes it very difficult to draw the best overall district maps. However, we are assured that there are procedures for addressing this issue.
- Finally, five issues raised in Governor Ricketts’ veto message are satisfied:
- Points 2 & 3 above satisfy Governor Ricketts’ concern (in his veto of LB580 dated April 20, 2016) that that the bill should reflect “the spirit and tradition of our non-partisan Legislature.”
- This bill gives the Legislative Research Office (NOT the Independent Advisory Commission) the authority to draft the maps (or after rejection of the maps twice by the Legislature, that power shifts to the Legislature’s Executive Board). The LRO is the agency that drafts all legislation. The drafting of maps by the Legislative Research Office avoids the Governor’s concern that that the Commission “could become a hyper-partisan, unelected advisory commission that will likely be comprised of formal political party activities and former elected officials.”
- The bill also provides for hearings held in all three Congressional Districts (rather than simply in the Capital). While the Commission schedules, chairs, and reports on these hearings, the reports on the hearings come before the Legislature, the same as the reports of other hearings.
- The bill does not contradict the Nebraska Constitution. There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits the Legislature from delegating part of the responsibility of conducting hearings and providing reports. The Commission does not draw the maps. They are drawn by the LRO—or, in the final instance, by the Legislature’s Executive Board. Furthermore, the final decisions about the maps is retained by the Legislature—and if it is not satisfied with the second set of maps, it retains the authority to draw its own maps.
- Finally, this provision—that the Legislature retains the authority to draw its own maps—avoids the Governor’s final concern. It’s timeline significantly reduces the likelihood of delays that could create a need for “a special session to be called for the purpose of enacting redistricting plans.”
- Several Minor Issues:
- The maximum allowable variations in populations except for U.S. Congressmen is 10 percent. This may a be larger variation than the Courts would accept, but that is not certain.
- It appears that amendments to the redistricting bills are not allowed, but that is not specifically stated in the bill.
- If the Unicameral is unable to approve the any of the first two sets of bills, the Legislature’s Executive Board becomes responsible for drawing the maps, then sending them to the Legislature for amendment and approval.
- This bill does not include the language in LB580 (2015-16) asking that the Secretary of State provide a formal opinion on the constitutionality of the proposed maps. This eliminates one of the issues raised by Governor Ricketts in his veto message.
We believe this in an outstanding bill that will serve well the citizens of Nebraska. It deserves the strong support of our tremendous non-partisan Legislature.
John F. Else, Social Policy Director
Sherry Miller, President