GRAND ISLAND — Members of the public spoke out on options for a new set of legislative district boundaries Tuesday on the Central Community College campus in Grand Island.
The Nebraska Legislature’s Redistricting Committee is conducting hearings in each of the state’s three congressional districts as required by rule. In addition to the Tuesday hearing in Grand Island, the public will have a chance to voice opinions about proposed changes on Wednesday in Lincoln and Thursday in Omaha.
State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, representing District 39 in Douglas County, is chairwoman of the committee and announced that the hearing would include eight different bills being proposed, which include redistricting for congressional seats, legislative districts, the Nebraska Public Service Commission and the state Board of Education.
“This is a difficult process,” she said. “No one likes change. Today is the public’s opportunity to weigh in, and we want to ensure you are heard.”
As outlined by law, redistricting occurs every 10 years based on census geography and population data from the U.S. Census. Nebraska is divided into 49 single-member legislative districts with the ideal district population of 40,031 based on the 2020 Census.
The two main bills being discussed Tuesday were LB3 and LB4, two variations of new boundaries for the legislative districts.
Among other changes, LB3 would move current Legislative District No. 24 to Sarpy County, with an overall range of deviation about 9.4%.
The main difference for LB4 is that it would move the current Legislative District No. 44 into Douglas and Sarpy counties, with an overall range of deviation at about 9.8%.
State Sen. Justin Wayne, representing District 13 in north Omaha, said with a shift of nearly 100,000 people from rural areas to the big cities of Omaha and Lincoln, there has to be a shift of a senator from a rural area to an urban one.
He said the committee also considered senators who won’t be up for re-election due to term limits when deciding which to eliminate.
Linehan said it was necessary to split some counties to create a map with zero deviation.
Some speakers expressed concern about dividing communities, such as Grand Island and Hastings, into separate districts.
Adam Jacobs, who lives in rural Adams County, expressed concern with taking the north part of Hastings and including it in a district with southern Hall County. He noted rural Adams County also would be separated from the county seat of Hastings.
“Separating rural Adams County from its hub in Hastings does a disservice to the community,” he said.
Jasper Fanning, general manager of the Upper Republican Natural Resources District based in Imperial, told the committee that it is important to keep the communities around the Republican Basin in the same district to avoid conflicts with different areas.
With multiple senators representing different areas of the river basin, he said, they could end up working against each other instead of focusing efforts on water rights with other states.
Tracy Overstreet, Hall County election commissioner, said the committee needs to consider polling places when redrawing the district lines. Some areas under the proposed plan would leave areas with limited options for public spaces that could be used for voting.
When asked about sharing facilities, she said by state statue they aren’t supposed to have voters from different legislative districts at the same precinct.
She also was concerned with creating drastic changes for voters. Under one of the plans, people now voting in Doniphan would have to vote in Wood River instead.
“I’m very concerned about voter disenfranchisement,” she said.
State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, who represents District 47, said he rejected both options. He offered another approach to the redistricting process, starting the process with Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties.
Erdman suggested dividing the population in those counties between 27 representatives proportional to the percentage of the state’s population in urban areas, then divide the rest of the population among the rural representatives.
“I don’t know if that would work because I haven’t drawn any maps,” he said. “You should be able to come up with a common-sense solution. I haven’t done it because I’ve been dealing with your broken property tax system and the Game and Parks.”
Wayne said he talked to Erdman about that approach but the variance was too high.
“I tried to draw the map that way, but it just doesn’t work,” he said.