Mark Taylor
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A joint House/Senate committee is halfway through a 14-community town hall tour to gather input from citizens before drawing new representative districts for Congress, the Kansas House and Senate and Kansas Board of Education.
The committee made its presentation and took public comments during a Sept. 2 public hearing at Johnson County Community College.
Law requires representative districts to be revisited every 10 years and adjusted to account for population changes.
Sen. Tim Owens (R-Overland Park), co-chair of the committee, said efforts will be taken to prevent gerrymandering (creating districts for the political advantage of a single party) and to preserve “communities of interest” based on common social, cultural and economic interests.
He added that whole counties should be in the same Congressional district to the extent possible, and districts should be as compact and contiguous.
No final redistricting decisions will be made until public input is gathered.
“We have made no decisions,” Owens said. “I want to emphasize that two ver strong positions of mine is my intent that we avoid gerrymandering anywhere, and that we adhere very strictly to the population density rule.
“The courts have ruled in the past that we need to get as close to zero population deviation as we can. I believe that can and will be accomplished.”
Speaker of the House Mike O’Neal, co-chair of the redistricting committee, said the 2010 census shows a population disparity among the state’s four Congressional districts based on “ideal” representation numbers.
He said the 1st Congressional District is about 58,000 under ideal, and the 2nd District, about 3,300.
The 3rd Congressional District is about 54,289 over ideal, and the 4th District about 6,912.
O’Neal said the good news for the state is that population has grown enough to avoid losing a Congressional seat.
Overland Park and Olathe showed population increases of 16.3 percent and 35.4 percent, respectively, he said.
O’Neal said no redistricting decisions will be made until after all 14 public hearings are completed and public comment is considered.
“The process of map drawing is in its infancy stage,” he said.
Delores Furtado, former Johnson County Commissioner, was the first to speak when the floor was opened to public comment.
Furtado, Overland Park, said she was speaking on behalf of the Kansas League of Women Voters.
She said the League is concerned about the “transparency and accountability” of the redistricting process.
Furtado said the League wants the public to be made more aware of timelines and allow sufficient time for public to comment before redistricting maps are adopted.
“There is a map, next thing you know it is done,” she said.
Mike Taylor, of Wyandotte County, expressed concern about rumors that Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan. would be moved from the 3rd Congressional District to the 1st Congressional District.
He said Wyandotte and Johnson Counties should remain in the same district because both are large economic contributors to the state, are urban in nature, share a common state line with Missouri and work together on regional projects.
“I’ll say something that probably a few years ago wouldn’t have been said,” Taylor said.  “Johnson County and Wyandotte County are probably more of a community interest than ever before in their history.”