JACKSON — The Mississippi Senate has rejected a proposal aimed at jump-starting negotiations over legislative boundaries, an action that came after nearly all of the chamber’s Republican members met privately with Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, tried a parliamentary maneuver yesterday that would have allowed the Senate to vote anew on its map of new Senate districts that it and the House had already approved. But Bryan couldn’t win enough votes in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Bryan was seeking to end an impasse that began when the Democratic-controlled House approved the Senate’s map for its legislative district boundaries, but the Senate rejected the House’s map for its respective districts. Traditionally, each chamber approves the other’s plan.
“The members of the Legislature have an obligation to the three million citizens of this state to produce a redistricting plan. I intend to exhaust all efforts,” Bryan said after he pushed a measure that would essentially have allowed the House to make changes that could have led to conference committee negotiations.
Before the vote was taken, Bryan and Republican senators met in the lieutenant governor’s office for about 20 minutes. Bryant said he wanted the Democrat to explain his position to them. When questioned about the meeting on the floor, the Republican Bryant said, “I made sure we didn’t have a quorum,” meaning no Senate rules were violated by the meeting.
The two chambers are at a stalemate on redistricting, the process of redrawing voting maps to reflect changes in the state’s population revealed by the 2010 Census. Those changes include growth in DeSoto County, just south of Memphis, Tenn., and a loss of population in the economically-depressed Delta region.
House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, has said he won’t negotiate with the Senate because it rejected his chamber’s map. The House had passed the Senate’s map for its legislative districts, basically giving the Republicans in that chamber what they wanted.
The lieutenant governor said he opposed Bryan’s floor maneuver because it was unnecessary to approve the same Senate map a second time. He said their original plan is still alive at the Capitol.
But Democrat Bryan said he wanted to introduce the map again as “a new vehicle because the bill in conference is going nowhere.” Senate approval of a new map would allow the House to make amendments to either its plan or the Senate plan, Bryan said.
The stalled talks led the Mississippi NAACP to file a lawsuit last week to block elections this year under Mississippi’s current 122 House districts and 52 Senate districts, which were put in place after the 2000 census. The civil rights group said because of population changes over the past decade, some districts have too many residents and some have too few, violating the constitutional principle of one-person, one-vote. The House Elections Committee has voted to join the lawsuit.
Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said in a news release he wants both chambers to reach a compromise to avoid court action. He urged both leaders to introduce a new resolution. Flaggs and Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, watched the Senate action on Wednesday.
Blackmon, who is an attorney, said he’s ready to fight the Senate plan in court. Blackmon said the map ignored the 5 percent growth in the state’s black population.
“It’s not fair. It’s absolutely status quo. They have divided districts to ensure they maintain Republican control,” Blackmon said, explaining the Senate map reduced the black percentages in so-called swing districts to tip those areas in favor of Republicans.
After redistricting efforts locked up 20 years ago, Mississippi held two legislative elections during a single four-year term. The first was in 1991, under outdated districts. The second was in 1992, under new districts.
Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department, which checks to ensure minority voting strength isn’t diluted.
Source: The Associated Press