Legislators wait until session end to redistrict

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Legislators entered the 2012 session knowing they faced the daunting task of redrawing the 122 House districts and 52 Senate districts to adhere to population shifts found by the 2010 census.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves called it “one of the two or three most important items” on the agenda for the 2012 session.
It also apparently will be one of the last dealt with during the 2012 session.
On Friday morning the joint House and Senate committee tasked with redrawing the districts met for less than five minutes where the two chairmen – Rep. Billy Denny, R-Jackson, and Sen. Merle Flowers, R-Southaven – announced that they had plans to be taken up in the coming days.
Apparently, Denny and Flowers held the meeting to adhere to a state law that says plans must be drawn at least 15 days before the end of the session. The law does not say the plans must be made available to the public. They were not Friday.
Today marks the 15th day before the end of the session.
Later, Reeves put out a statement, saying, “The maps have been sent to legal counsel to ensure the plans meet all the requirements of the (federal) Voting Rights Act and will withstand judicial scrutiny. The maps will be released within the next few weeks.”
Both Reeves and Flowers were reluctant to talk to reporters after the meeting. When asked who was reviewing the plan, Denny said, “I can’t tell you” and referred questions to the committee’s legal counsel.
The legal counsel would not answer, citing “attorney-client privilege.”
Flowers said, “We have until Dec. 31 (to develop a plan). That is what the court said,” but he added he is certain the Legislature will pass a plan before the scheduled end of the session on May 6.
The issue ended up in federal court last year after the House and Senate could not agree on new legislative districts because of partisan bickering. The court instructed legislative elections to be held last year under the malapportioned districts.
The court said at the time it would hear arguments – if anyone made them – this year on whether new elections should be held this year under newly drawn districts.
Running under the old districts, Republicans captured a majority in November in both the House and Senate for the first time since the 1800s.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com