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Kan. Senate leaders to push redistricting change

Published on -4/25/2012, 3:51 PM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Republican leaders in the Kansas Senate who are enmeshed in a dispute over redistricting promised Wednesday to push for a change to the state constitution that would limit the Legislature's role in redrawing the state's political boundaries.

Their proposal would create an independent, five-member commission to handle redistricting, limiting the Legislature to taking up-or-down votes on the commission's plans.

The Senate hasn't approved a plan for adjusting the lines of members' districts to account for shifts in the state's population over the past decade. Conservative and moderate Republicans accuse one another of trying to gain an advantage in GOP primary contests that will determine whether moderates keep leading the Senate's GOP majority.

The stalemate also has kept the Senate from voting upon a bipartisan plan approved by the House in February to redraw state representatives' districts. Each chamber has passed a congressional redistricting bill but killed the other chamber's plan.

"That process is far too political, and we need to depoliticize it," said Senate Vice President John Vratil, a Leawood Republican, one of the targeted moderate GOP incumbents.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, both Republicans, have warned that delays in finishing redistricting will create problems in administering elections and open the state to lawsuits. They've also said the state could be forced to postpone its Aug. 7 primary.

House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, was frustrated enough with the Senate's stalemate to call a meeting of the House Redistricting Committee for Wednesday to review proposals for redrawing Senate districts. But the committee met for only a few minutes, and O'Neal's aides later said they're seeing signs of movement in the Senate.

Decades of tradition have dictated that neither chamber attempts to draw districts for the other chamber's members. O'Neal is the House committee's chairman.

State officials have said new political boundaries should be set by May 10 to avoid problems.

Senate leaders insist their chamber will be able to approve a redistricting plan for its members quickly enough to avoid significant administrative headaches or postponing the primary. But Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican, acknowledged senators aren't likely to debate a proposal until early next week.

Emler said the proposal for a constitutional amendment on redistricting will be introduced this week. If both chambers approved the measure by two-thirds majorities, it will go on the November general election ballot for voters to consider.

One commission member would be appointed each by the House and Senate majority and minority leaders. The fifth would be chosen by a vote of the other four.

Similar proposals have been outlined in the past and have garnered bipartisan support, but O'Neal and other House GOP leaders have opposed them. House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican, said elected officials should handle redistricting, not an unelected commission.

He also saw a debate over the proposal as delaying work on redistricting this year.

"We need to quit avoiding the issue and face it," he said.

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Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

John Hanna can be reached at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna

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