Senate adopts a backup redistricting plan - Bill could be used to meet Justice requests

Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Author: Ed Anderson Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE -- Senators voted 24-12 Monday to adopt a backup Senate redistricting plan identical to the one adopted at a special session in March. 

Senate President Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan, told colleagues that the bill is needed in case the U.S. Justice Department decides that the plan, based on 2010 Census figures, does not pass muster or needs tweaking. 

Chaisson and House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, said last week they expect to hear from Justice on the remapping plans June 19 or 20. The session must end no later than 6 p.m. June 23. 

Under federal law, Louisiana and several other states must have their redistricting plans approved to assure that minority voting rights are not diluted. 

Chaisson's Senate Bill 170 increases the number of Senate minority districts from 10 to 11 by creating an African-American-dominated district running from near Alexandria into northern Louisiana, the same as his Senate bill in the March session did. 

Chaisson said the bill could be used to make minor changes based on Justice objections. A special session would be needed if a new plan is required. 

Some senators expressed concerned about possible changes that might be made to the bill in the House, but Chaisson said the he personally would oversee the process and bring the plan back to be voted on by the full Senate. 

"Nothing is going to take place without a majority vote of this body," Chaisson said. "I think we have a good plan and it will be approved" by Justice. "I am trying to be proactive" and avoid the need for a special session. 

"A tweak could be a line that cuts a neighborhood in half," said Sen. Cynthia Willard-Lewis, D-New Orleans, urging a vote against the bill. "A tweak can be a dangerous thing. ... Vote 'no' on this Hail Mary pass."