By Matthew Patane and Jamie Hausman
State Capitol Bureau, Missouri Digital News
JEFFERSON CITY — After 2010 census results revealed a population decline costing Missouri a congressional seat, lawmakers have been waiting for completed census data from the U.S. Census Bureau in order to reorganize the state’s districts.
In a news conference Monday, Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, and Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, announced the federal report will arrive this week. The state must implement changes to the current districts before the 2012 elections.
Under Missouri law, the state legislature is responsible for submitting a bill to the governor to draw Missouri’s congressional districts.
Diehl and Rupp, the respective chairs of the House and Senate redistricting committees, announced they would be working together in joint sessions to streamline the process of drawing the new districts. Diehl said they planned to collaborate to address what he called a “time crunch.”
“To an extent, we can coordinate resources…but I think it’s important for each body to begin on its own because we need to get a [district] map done by early May,” Diehl said.
Even though Republicans are in charge of the redistricting process, Minority Floor Leader Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said he trusted the leadership to do what needed to be done.
“There is always a concern when you lose a congressional seat, but you hope that there are no shenanigans during the process and you need to take the representative at his word.” Talboy said. “It is no fun to lose a congressional seat because the state loses representation at the same time.”
The chairmen plan to hold public hearings around the state to hear citizens’ thoughts regarding the rearrangement of the congressional lines to accommodate for the loss of a district.
“We’re just going to take it on the road and listen to as many people as we can,” Rupp said.
A Senate public hearing is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. Friday at the Springfield Chamber of Commerce. A joint hearing is also scheduled in St. Louis on March 4.
“Our goal is to try and get the public hearing aspect of this wrapped up in the next week to 10 days,” Diehl said. “By that time the data should be in usable format, and we can begin the process of building maps in the two committees.”
The committees plan to use software that collects census information to identify population numbers by county, street and city blocks. Although technology has made redistricting easier, legislators will still need to listen to public opinion to properly draw the new districts according to what the citizens want, Rupp said.
“There is a personal connection with the people when they say ‘Hey, I want this to happen,’ and we can go in and manually listen to them,” Rupp said. “If most of the people say they want this, then we should try and make that happen and a computer system can’t do that.”
Both Diehl and Rupp commented that drastic changes would need to be made during redistricting to effectively reapportion the population into eight districts instead of nine.
“When you lose a congressional seat, every single existing seat is going to have to pick up people, regardless if they’ve been fast growing or if they’ve lost population,” Rupp said. “Every single district has to add people, so every district is going to change.”