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Missouri Senate advances another redistricting plan

Missouri’s Republican-led Senate has given initial approval to a plan to revamp key parts of a ballot initiative on redistricting approved by voters just two years ago.

The proposed constitutional amendment would lower “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness” to the least important factors among criteria used to draw state House and Senate districts. If approved by lawmakers, the measure would go before voters this year.

The proposal needs another vote of approval in the Senate before it can move to the House.

Republicans have said that the “Clean Missouri” initiative approved by voters in 2018 was deceptively marketed because it was packaged with a series of attractive ethics reforms, including a $5 limit on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers.

The new Republican-backed proposal also includes changes to ethics laws, such as an outright ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and a $100 reduction in the amount of money donors can give to Senate candidates. The proposal would make those campaign contributions, which now are tied to inflation, permanent.

Speaking at the Missouri Press Association and Associated Press Day at the Capitol last week, GOP Sen. Dan Hegeman, of Cosby, said Clean Missouri could result in what he described as “snaky, windy” districts.

Hegeman, who sponsored the proposal to revamp redistricting yet again, raised concerns that the 2018 plan could lead to counties being split and districts spanning both urban and rural areas in an effort to increase party competitiveness.

“I think that Clean Missouri can’t do anything but gerrymander the state something fierce, because it raises in priorities the idea that they want to have competitive districts,” Hegeman said. “I don’t see how you get competitive districts without disrupting what I call communities of interest — counties, cities, municipalities, neighborhoods.”

In addition to changing the redistricting criteria, it also would abolish a voter-approved state demographer position to draw districts and return the task to bipartisan commissions used in the past.

Democratic critics in the Senate on Tuesday blasted Republicans for questioning voters’ 2018 decision.

“The voters made a resounding statement,” Kansas City Democratic Sen. John Rizzo said during Tuesday debate.

Missouri was one of five states where voters in 2018 approved redistricting ballot measures designed to decrease the potential for partisan influence when redrawing voting districts. An Associated Press analysis of Missouri’s redistricting formula shows it is likely to lead to Democratic gains in the state Legislature while dropping Republican supermajorities closer to the more even partisan division often reflected in statewide races.

Neither the 2018 measure nor the new Republican proposal affects redistricting for the U.S. House, which would continue to be passed as a bill by state lawmakers subject to a gubernatorial veto.