Redistricting Session Begins with Idea to Save Rural Representation

Sept. 13, 2021, midnight ·

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan introducing bill
Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, center, gives bill to Carol Koranda of legislative clerk's office as Sen. Justin Wayne, left, waits, and Clerk Patrick O'Donnell, right, looks on (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The Nebraska Legislature began its special redistricting session Monday with the introduction of a bill aimed at preserving rural representation. But it may not be constitutional.

In the last decade, Nebraska’s population shifted from the western and more rural parts of the state to the more eastern and urban areas, especially the fast-growing suburbs of Omaha. And proposals introduced to redraw the district lines for the 49 state senators reflect that shift.

One plan, proposed by Sen. Justin Wayne, would move the western Nebraska district currently represented by Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango to a new district in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

Another, proposed by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, would move a partly rural district represented by Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward to Sarpy and Saunders County.

In response, Kolterman on Monday introduced a bill to increase the number of state senators from 49 to 50. He said that would eliminate the need to discontinue any rural district.

“If there’s a tool available, or if there’s a district available that we can put into Sarpy County, which is what the intent is, let’s exhaust all possibilities before we start dismantling districts,” Kolterman said.

Kolterman said he’s not simply trying to preserve his own district, reeling off a list of rural senators whose districts should be preserved.

“I don’t want to get rid of Hughes either. (That’s) precisely why I put my bill in. I don’t want to get rid of Gragert, I don’t want to get Hughes, Stinner, Williams -- anybody in rural Nebraska needs to stay intact,” he said.

The Nebraska Constitution allows for up to 50 state senators. But another section of the constitution says when the governor calls a special session, “the Legislature shall enter upon no business except that for which they were called together.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts’ call made no mention of expanding the Legislature. Attorney General Doug Peterson is expected to be asked for an opinion on the bill’s constitutionality.

In addition to Kolterman’s bill, proposals were introduced Monday formalizing various plans for redrawing districts the Redistricting Committee has been discussing. There’ll be hearings on those plans Tuesday in Grand Island, Wednesday in Lincoln, and Thursday in Omaha, and Speaker Mike Hilgers says the full Legislature will begin debating them Friday.