Lawmakers wrangle over redistricting

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May 24th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – The officially nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature staged what looked like full-scale partisan wrangling over congressional redistricting on Monday.

Sen. Russ Karpisek wants the Legislature to move his home county of Saline out of Nebraska's strongly Republican Third District, and into the Lincoln-area First District. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Senator Russ Karpicek of Wilber is one of the minority of registered Democrats in the officially nonpartisan Legislature. His district includes Saline County, one of the few counties in the state where Democrats outnumber Republicans. Ten years ago, Saline County was switched out of the Lincoln-area First Congressional District and into central and western Nebraska’s Third District. Karpicek wants it switched back, and made it clear he would filibuster in an attempt to get that done.

He offered a map that would do that, and keep Sarpy County divided the way it is now – something that the Republican majority wants to change. Under Karpisek’s map, the state’s three congressional districts would differ in population by only one voter. Lincoln Senator Bill Avery, a Democrat, said that was better than the Republican-supported map, which differs by up to 273 voters. Citing U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Avery suggested that big a deviation would lead to a successful court challenge.

“What we’re doing here is messing around with things that will not stand constitutional scrutiny,” he said. “So I’m asking you to step back a little bit, take off your partisan hats, and ask yourself, do you want to come back here in a special session and redo this all over once more?”

Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, a Republican, offered an amendment that kept the division of Sarpy County and the position of Saline County favored by his party members, but reduced the population differences to one by dividing Gage County. When Karpisek insisted on pursuing his proposal, Lautenbaugh temporarily withdrew his, while still defending it as a solution to criticism raised during the first round of debate.

“It would address the concerns that were so vocally voiced last week, if people are of a mind to actually do that,” he said. “So you can ask yourself, who is playing games here? Ask yourself who is trying to correct some issues that were raised, meritorious or otherwise, on general file.”

Karpisek’s proposal was defeated, 28-16, and senators defeated another proposal to adopt a map drawn by the nonpartisan Legislative Research Office on a vote of 30-14. Lautenbaugh then offered his amendment, which Senators approved late Monday afternoon. They then voted 34-14 to give the congressional redistricting plan second round approval.

On another subject, lawmakers voted 38-9 final approval of a bill requiring that a doctor be physically present when abortion-inducing drugs are dispensed. Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton, who introduced the proposal, has said it’s intended to prevent what’s done in Iowa, where drugs can be dispensed after a doctor in a remote location visits with a patient via videoconferencing.

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