JACKSON — House Speaker Billy McCoy has given the Senate an ultimatum — approve his chamber’s redistricting plan as is, or the matter will immediately go to the U.S. Department of Justice.
McCoy, D-Rienzi, released a statement informing Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and others he has no intention of negotiating a compromise.
Legislators are redrawing the 122 House districts and 52 Senate districts to reflect population changes revealed by the 2010 Census.
The House plan reduces the number of split precincts from 449 to fewer than 200. It goes from 39 majority-black districts to 44. But Bryant and other Republicans have said the plan is unfair to the GOP.
The Senate is expected to vote on the House plan soon. They can accept the plan without changes or invite negotiations.
“Should the Senate choose to invite conference on JR201, I will not entertain that request nor will I appoint conferees. In addition, the House will immediately transmit JR 201 to the Department of Justice and seek preclearance of the plan for use in the upcoming election,” McCoy said in his statement.
“We will ask the Department of Justice to work with us in adopting this plan to prevent taxpayers from having to pay for two sets of legislative elections and from having to pay for the expensive cost of litigation. There is no reason whatsoever that the Legislature should incur these unnecessary costs at the same time we are cutting education, Medicaid and mental health.”
The House approved its redistricting plan for a second time on Tuesday. The first version was killed in a Senate committee after Bryant said he would not support it, particularly not based on what’s been referred to as a gentlemen’s agreement between the chambers to accept each other’s redistricting proposals. The House approved the Senate’s redistricting plan without changes on Tuesday.
Bryant said in a statement he was “disappointed” by McCoy’s decision.
“As the Senate prepares to vote and send the House and Senate plans to a conference committee, moving forward with the legislative process is the appropriate and lawful thing to do. The Legislature must rest on the rule of law, not the antiquated traditions that were designed to keep the powerful in power,” Bryant said.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said there was no law violation.
“Each house requests conference. It’s up to the other house to grant conference. That’s basic legislative procedure,” Bryan said.
The Senate has 12 majority-black districts. The plan released Monday would increase that to 15. Burton said 13 of the 15 would be considered viable for a black candidate to win because they’d have black majorities of at least 60 percent. The Senate committee’s plan also would reduce the number of split precincts from 129 to 17.
The plans have to withstand Justice Department scrutiny since the agency checks to ensure minority voting strength isn’t diluted. Lawmakers have said the agency could take up to 60 days to examine the plans. Candidates face a June 1 deadline to qualify for this year’s legislative races.
Lawmakers have said if an agreement isn’t reached Mississippi might have to conduct legislative elections two years in a row — this year in outdated districts that are not balanced by population, and next year in new districts, if the new maps are ready by then.
Mississippi had to hold back-to-back legislative elections in 1991 and 1992 because of difficulties in crafting a plan that would not dilute minorities’ voting strength. Lawmakers say the two rounds of elections during a single four-year term were expensive and politically unpopular.
“If state House and Senate members do not approve new districts this year, the issue could go to court and taxpayers may be forced to cover the expense of two legislative elections,” McCoy wrote. “The responsibility of whether or not to force taxpayers to pay for two separate elections and expensive litigation now rests with the state Senate.”
McCoy also said the “overriding tradition” for 50 years has been that neither chamber interferes with the districts of the other house.
Source: The Associated Press