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Lawmakers consider new way to redistrict

ST. PAUL -- A prominent Minnesota senator proposes what he calls a clear and efficient process to redrawing legislative and congressional district lines after the 2010 Census.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, suggests creating an advisory commission that would aid the Legislature in the often-arduous redistricting process. The U.S. Supreme Court requires that political districts be of equal population.

The bill includes redistricting requirements for both congressional and legislative districts, which occurs every 10 years after the federal government conducts a census. The requirements would help minimize political bias and focus creating equal populations in each district, Pogemiller said.

"There is no way to take politics out of this," Pogemiller said, adding that his bill would be an attempt to minimize that.

To Pogemiller, the key part of the bill is establishing an advisory commission to draw up new district lines, ultimately speeding up the process.

The commission would consist of five retired judges, four appointed by legislative leaders and the fifth by the other four judges. These judges could not have served in a party endorsed-position, such as legislators or party officials.

"A redistricting plan will make the mapping as orderly and efficient as possible," Pogemiller said.

The panel would have three attempts to draw up a map. The first two times, the Legislature can approve or reject the plan; the third time lawmakers could modify it.

Pogemiller said that, ideally and most likely, the map would be passed on the first round.

Former Sen. Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, supported this new direction for redistricting.

"I had the opportunity to be a part of four different attempts at redistricting and was the chair for three of those times," Moe said. "In all cases, we failed to do our job. The process doesn't work. I think there is a better way. It doesn't take away from the Legislature's responsibility."

Pogemiller argued that all the bill does is set up a process for the Legislature to use its authority.

"I think they (the panel) is going to come up with a plan that the Legislature will say 'OK,'" he said

The bill is making its way through the Senate committee process, but there is no similar House bill.

The State Constitution requires the Legislature to pass a redistricting plan after each census, but, as Moe said, that has not happened in recent years. The task falls to the courts when lawmakers can't draw the maps.

Karrah Anderson is a University of Minnesota journalism student who writes stories for the Minnesota Capitol Bureau, part of Forum Communications Co. which also owns the Bemidji Pioneer.