Missouri legislature unable to reach compromise between the House and Senate redistricting plans

Friday, April 22, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Even though negotiations continued into the early morning hours on Friday, the Missouri legislature was unable to reach a compromise between the House and Senate redistricting plans.

After more than seven hours of closed-door negotiations, a joint conference committee on redistricting failed to draft a map that could be agreed upon by both chambers. The stalemate means that a map will not be passed this week as leaders had hoped to do in order to give the general assembly enough time to override a gubernatorial veto.

The negotiations ultimately came to an end shortly after 2 a.m. when the Senate unexpectedly adjourned until next Tuesday without informing the House of Representatives -- effectively walking out on the negotiations for the evening.

"At some point I think the Senate will get serious about negotiating the map and trying to resolve the differences between the two maps," said Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis, who chairs the House redistricting committee. "Tonight was not a serious negotiation."

Diehl laid the failure to reach a compromise squarely at the feet of senators on the joint committee, who he said refused to make significant changes to their version of the map to try and meet the House halfway.

Negotiations began around 7 p.m. Thursday, with each side presenting their initial proposals. The House and Senate versions of the map are largely similar but differ in a few key areas, most prominently Jackson County in the Kansas City area and St. Charles and Jefferson counties in the St. Louis area. As lawmakers attempt to craft a map that eliminates one of the states nine current congressional districts, conflicts have arisen over diluting urban and rural population centers.

According to Diehl, the House compromise offer tried to meet the Senate halfway by shifting disputed boundaries to a midpoint between the original versions of the map. But he said that the Senate refused to make any significant changes throughout the evening, offering a second map around midnight which he described as almost identical to their first offering but without any statistical data to back it up.

The threat of filibuster has been continually employed by the Senate as a way of urging the House to take up its version of the map. Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, who chairs the Senate redistricting committee, has said repeatedly that it would be easier for the House -- which does not permit individual members to filibuster and has time limits on debate -- to pass the Senate map than it would be going the other direction.

"You know it was very obvious, just by the observer, that the House Map had multiple problems with Senators who each have the ability to hold the floor in perpetuity," Rupp said last week after the Senate approved its map. "And if you get two or three of them together, it's very hard to deal with. But with the Senate version, we were able to mitigate almost all of those concerns."

One member of the conference committee has been a particularly vocal critic of a redistricting hot zone. Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, denounced the House map upon its initial release because he felt too much of northern Jefferson County -- which includes many St. Louis suburbs -- was being lumped in with his largely rural congressional eighth district.

But Diehl said that the threat of filibuster from individual senators should not override the desires of 163 members of the Missouri House.

"They advise us there's a filibuster on every issue we have a disagreement on," he said.

Although the Senate will be off for the next four days, the House is scheduled to convene on Friday morning.

Getting a final map passed this week was a self-imposed priority deadline for both chambers. Constitutionally, the general assembly has several more weeks to approve a map by the end of session, but lawmakers had hoped that by finishing early the legislature would have enough time to override a gubernatorial veto if possible.

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