3 congressional plans headed for House vote

Advocate, The (Baton Rouge, LA) - Friday, April 1, 2011
A House panel Thursday advanced three congressional remap plans, opting to let the full House decide how lines should be drawn for Louisiana's six districts. 

Among the choices are whether there should be two northern Louisiana districts running vertically north to south or just one running horizontally east to west along Interstate 20. 

The committee killed three other plans redrawing the districts, including one that called for a second majority black district that included a good part of East Baton Rouge Parish. 

"I'm really excited that we voted more than one bill out," said House redistricting panel chairman state Rep. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston. "We have given the entire body the opportunity to speak as a whole on what direction they would like to see us go in." 

The full House is scheduled to debate the plans Monday. 

The realignment of congressional election districts comes about every decade under a federal law that requires the districts to be equal in population. Stagnant population growth in Louisiana since the 2000 U.S. census has resulted in Louisiana losing its seventh congressional seat. 

Two sitting congressmen will be forced to run in the same district no matter what plan is adopted. 

Gov. Bobby Jindal weighed in last week on what he called a "consensus" plan that keeps two north Louisiana districts - one in Shreveport and the other in Monroe. The Louisiana congressional delegation has not endorsed any plan. 

Timmy Teepell, Jindal's chief of staff, "worked the committee" lobbying legislators, as the administration made a concerted effort to determine which congressional bills advanced, Gallot said. 

Gallot's own I-20 design bill, House Bill 3, came up one vote short of committee approval. 

Teepell visited with lawmakers outside the committee room. 

Teepell said he was lobbying for a "vertical design" plan. 

The two northern Louisiana districts are held byU.S. Reps. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, and John Fleming, R-Minden. 

Headed to the House floor for debate are: 

• House Bill 6, which calls for two vertically drawn north Louisiana districts, would keep Lafourche-Terrebonne together, would craft another district along the I-10 corridor connecting Lafayette and Lake Charles, and would reshape the Baton Rouge district extending it into Tangipahoa. 

The committee voted 15-4 for the proposal by state Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge. 

Ponti said the districts were drawn to keep areas with common interests together and is based on conversations with members of the congressional delegation and public hearing comments. 

He said HB6 still has "some issues" including its split of Jefferson Davis and Acadia parishes into two congressional districts, Tangipahoa divvied up among three districts and St. Tammany between two. 

• House Bill 39 would put one congressional district in north Louisiana that includes Shreveport and Monroe, and another across central Louisiana. It, like Ponti's measure, would keep Lafourche and Terrebonne in the same district and Lafayette and Lake Charles in an Acadiana district. 

Livingston Parish would be in a district with parts of the New Orleans area. Baton Rouge-area parishes would end up in three congressional districts. 

"Our plan is simple, compact with the focus on being fair. It was not drafted with any congressman or elected official," said HB39 sponsor state Rep. Dee Richard, No Party-Thibodaux. 

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber opposed the bill because it would split up the nine parishes in the economic development region. "We think we will have less quality representation if that is the case," said BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp. 

The bill cleared the panel on an 11-8 vote. 

• House Bill 43's main focus is to keep St. Tammany Parish whole in one congressional district in a remap plan that calls for vertical north Louisiana districts. 

State Rep. Cameron Henry, R-New Orleans, said the changes proposed would address concerns U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, has expressed about the way his district would be reshaped in other plans. 

The panel voted 10-9 for HB43 sponsored by state Rep. Greg Cromer, R-Slidell. 

The panel defeated House Bill 42, by state Rep. Michael Jackson, creating a second majority black congressional district when only five members voted for the proposal and 14 voted against it. The "yes" votes were the committee's black members.