Hilgers: Redistricting and Primary could be Delayed

Sept. 21, 2021, midnight ·

Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers
Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers speaks Tuesday (Nebraska Public Media screenshot)

Listen To This Story

Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers said Tuesday that if lawmakers can’t reach agreement on redistricting by Saturday, they should go home and resume work in January. But he said that would probably delay next year’s primary election.

Hilgers spoke following two days in which first congressional redistricting, then legislative redistricting proposals were stopped by filibusters. The speaker said delays in getting census results had led to trying to redraw district maps in a short special session, which he said was an important effort:

“We want to give our election officials the most amount of time to prepare for an orderly May primary. That is and has been, in my opinion, the right thing to do. But I want to be clear: We are not going to stay in special session forever if we can’t accomplish our goal,” Hilgers said.

According to the timetable Hilgers originally laid out, that goal included advancing all six redistricting bills through the first round of voting by Tuesday. Now he’s setting a new deadline of Saturday, and says he’s optimistic senators will work out a compromise. But if the bills haven’t advanced by Saturday, he says, senators should go home and pick up redistricting when their regular session starts in January.

“This is a last resort. Passing these maps during the next session will almost certainly result in a delayed primary. And that will have cascading impacts on elections and the election machinery throughout our state. We should all want to avoid that result,” he said.

Even though the speaker sets the daily schedule, he cannot unilaterally force the session to adjourn. That would require a vote of the Legislature. But key senators from both major parties in the officially nonpartisan Legislature reacted favorably Tuesday to Hilgers’ announcement. Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, the Republican chair of the Redistricting Committee, said senators have to come up with a plan that can attract 33 votes – that’s two-thirds of the Legislature, the number needed to overcome a filibuster.

“(The) numbers are the numbers. We need to figure out some kind of agreement that we can get to 33 on. But if we can’t do that by Saturday, we’re not going to be able to do it by October 15. So we need to go home. We’ll come back in January,” Linehan said.

Likewise Sen. Justin Wayne, Democratic vice chair of the committee, suggested Hilgers’ announcement was expected and welcome.

“I’ve been waiting for that announcement for over a week…because that’s one of the tools in the toolbox that either side could use at any time, whether (in) a regular session or special session, to set a firm deadline,” Wayne said.

Wayne also said he’s optimistic an agreement can be reached. Hilgers said that’s the goal, but there’s more to think about.

“We want to get this done now. I certainly want to get it done now. But we do also want to get it right. These lines are the lines we’re going to have for the next 10 years – far after all of us are gone from this body. If we happen to have one delayed election to get these right for the next 10 years, then ultimately that’s the price that we’ll have to pay,” he said.

The announcement followed a brief session Tuesday in which the Legislature actually did give first round approval to two relatively noncontroversial bills, drawing new districts for Nebraska Supreme Court nominations and retention elections, and for the Public Service Commission. The Supreme Court bill advanced 45-0, and the PSC bill by 36-0, but not before Sen. Mike Flood warned that that PSC needs to keep a sharp eye on broadband expansion efforts.

“They have to make sure that we are serving areas with broadband. That we are holding companies to account. That we’re following the money. And most important that whoever… installs the fiber provides the service. I worry quite a bit that in the next year or two we’re going to have all this federal money coming to counties, cities, the state. And you’re going to have a bunch of fly-by-night operators that promise the world to put fiber in the ground. And they will be nowhere to be found in five years,” Flood said.

Flood says he may reintroduce a proposal that stalled this year to expand the Public Service Commission from five to seven members to keep a closer eye on things.

Nebraska Supreme Court redistricting map
Nebraska Supreme Court redistricting map (Source: Legislative Research Office)
Public Service Commission redistricting map
Public Service Commission redistricting map (Source: Legislative Research Office)