Sunday, April 22, 2012

Redistricting statutes being ignored by Republican legislators?

Rep. Bill Denny (R-Jackson)

If you were like me, you thought Friday's article in the Clarion-Ledger regarding the current state of redistricting signaled that something fishy was going on.  In short, neither Rep. Bill Denny (R-Jackson) nor Sen. Merle Flowers (R-Southaven), the chairmen of the House and Senate committees on redistricting, would say a word about the process used to draw the new district lines.  Rep. Denny did say that the plans had been submitted to experts, but said he didn't know who those experts were (Sounds like he's got total control of the situation, if you ask me.).  Sen. Flowers wouldn't comment at all, and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said that the plans would be revealed in the next few weeks.

Does Bill Denny saying, "Take my word, I've drawn something" count?

It seems like the only bit of news the Republican leadership wanted to get out was that the maps were drawn.  Why would that be important?
Let me introduce you to Section 5-3-93 of the Mississippi Code:

The members of the committee shall draw a plan to apportion, according to constitutional standards, the membership of the Mississippi Senate and the Mississippi House of Representatives no later than fifteen (15) days prior to the scheduled adjournment of the next regular session of the Legislature following the delivery of the 2000 decennial census data to the state and every ten (10) years thereafter and at such other times as they may be directed by joint resolution of the Mississippi Legislature.

Provided, however, the committee shall not be required to present a plan to the Legislature prior to four (4) months after the publication of census data.
Well guess what Saturday was?  The 15th day prior to the scheduled adjournment of this legislative session.  That means that the plans had to have been drawn by the committee no later than Saturday.  The question then becomes, what it means for a committee to draw a plan?  This opens several lines of inquiry: Does it mean that the chairman of the committee can just put pen to paper?  And if that's the case, how do you know that the law has been satisfied if the maps are not released?  Or does it mean that a plan has to be voted upon by the committee?  It's almost a nonsensical requirement to force a committee to draw a map and not vote on it. And how does a "committee" draw a plan, anyway? By voting on it, I would presume.

So that's why Republicans were rushing to get the word out that they'd "drawn" maps.

111 Days and counting...

But the question of whether last Friday's dog and pony show passes the drawing test is not the only problem Republicans are facing with statutes governing reapportionment.  Check out Section 5-3-103 of the Mississippi Code:
Upon completion of apportionment plans, the committee shall present its plans to the Mississippi Legislature, which shall act on the plans not later than the next regular session of the legislature. The committees to which the plans are referred shall report their recommendations to their respective houses no later than the forty-fifth day of the legislative session.
This language would seem to give legislators another session in which to pass new maps, but the language of 5-3-93 mandates that a plan be passed this year.  (The statutory scheme seems to contemplate that the maps would have been drawn last year and voted on no later than this year.)  The problem 5-3-103 holds for Republicans is in the second sentence.  The 45th day of the legislative session was February 16, which was the deadline for making requests that general bills and constitutional amendments be drafted.  On that day, the House was busy tabling the motion to reconsider on the ALEC-style "Sunshine" Act, and the Senate was busy welcoming foreign investors interested in opening charter schools.

So with no maps voted on by the committees 14 days before sine die (the last day of the session), the new Republican leadership in the Legislature may be on thinning legal ice with regard to redistricting.  But as this group has shown time and time again, laws are for Democrats.

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