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VOL. 127 | NO. 79 | Monday, April 23, 2012

New Miss. Legislative Maps Drawn But Not Revealed

EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS | Associated Press

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Two Republican chairmen say they've finished drawing redistricting plans for the Mississippi Legislature, and experts are privately reviewing the proposed maps.

However, during a brief meeting Friday, the chairmen wouldn't say when the House and Senate maps will be released to the public or to their fellow lawmakers.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves released a statement hours after the meeting, saying: "The maps have been sent to legal counsel to ensure the plans meet all the requirements of the Voting Rights Act and will withstand judicial scrutiny. The maps will be released within the next few weeks."

The current legislative session is scheduled to end May 6, and Reeves' statement raises questions about whether the four-month session will be extended or redistricting will be handled later in a special session, which would be an extra expense to the taxpayers.

The 122 House districts and 52 Senate districts have to be updated every decade to account for population changes revealed by the census. In areas where population is shrinking, such as the Delta and parts of metro Jackson, some current districts will be collapsed to make way for new districts in DeSoto County and other areas that have had significant growth.

Rep. Bill Denny of Jackson is in charge of drawing the House map, and Sen. Merle Flowers of Southaven is in charge of the Senate map.

Denny wouldn't reveal the names of the experts reviewing the proposed maps, telling reporters he did not know the experts' names. Flowers would not answer questions after a brief meeting of the redistricting committee.

The House and Senate argued for several weeks in 2011 before ending their session without adopting new maps.

Because of Mississippi's history of racial discrimination, the U.S. Justice Department eventually must approve the maps to ensure that they don't dilute minorities' voting power. Mississippi's population is 37 percent black.

The House currently has 39 majority-black districts, or 32 percent of the 122 seats. A House redistricting plan that ultimately failed in 2011, which was drawn by a Democratic chairman, would have increased that to 44 seats, or 36 percent.

The Senate currently has 12 majority-black districts, or 24 percent of the 52 seats. A Senate plan the ultimately failed in 2011, drawn by a different Republican chairman, would have increased that to 15 seats, or 29 percent

The ideal population of a new House district is 24,322, according to the website of the Joint Committee on Reapportionment and Redistricting.

The site shows that most underpopulated current House district is District 115, which is entirely in Harrison County in a part of Biloxi that lost a significant number of people after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. The seat is held by Democratic Rep. Randall Patterson. It is a majority-white district that has 10,817 fewer residents than it needs.

The most overpopulated current House district is District 6, which is entirely in DeSoto County. The seat is held by Republican Rep. Eugene Forrest Hamilton. It is a majority-white district that has 21,860 more residents than it needs.

The ideal population for a new Senate district is 57,063.

The redistricting committee's website shows the most underpopulated current Senate district is District 12, in parts of Bolivar and Washington counties, which has 13,491 fewer residents than it needs. The district, which is majority-black, is represented by Democratic Sen. Derrick Simmons of Greenville.

The most overpopulated current Senate district is the current District 19, which is entirely within DeSoto County and is represented by Flowers. It is majority-white and has 25,931 more residents than it needs.

According to criteria adopted by the legislative redistricting committee, the number of residents of each new House and Senate district must be no more than 5 percent higher or 5 percent lower than the ideal population.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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