January 12, 2022 |
The hard task of redrawing legislative districts in light of the 2020 census will resume today. After several contentious sessions in December, the Corporations Committee is scheduled to meet in Casper this afternoon.
Several new plans are expected to be presented today. Committee co-chair Dan Zwonitzer told legislative leaders at a management council meeting last week that a consensus agreement among lawmakers is close at hand. Senator Larry Hicks of Baggs derided the idea the committee is anywhere close to agreeing on a final plan.
Senator Hicks was referring to plan brought House Majority Floor Leader Albert Sommers that would have preserved House District 47 and Senate District 11 — Hick’s Seat — as they have basically existed for the last 30 years. The committee rejected the Sommers “status quo” plan. However, it’s not clear that the members of the committee from Laramie County, who want to move the House 47 seat from Carbon County to Cheyenne, will get their way, either. The plans brought today could create new controversies.
Representative Sommers will bring another plan before the committee at today’s meeting. His new plan could unwind all of the work the committee has done up until now. The new Sommers plan would deconstruct the nested house districts that have sat inside larger senate districts since 1992. Here in Carbon County, for instance, rural district 47 and Rawlins district 15, sit inside Senate District 11. The Sommers plan would turn the clock back to before 1992, when Governor Mike Sullivan forced the current plan when he vetoed a districting plan that included multi-member districts.
Given the big population shifts of the last decade, balancing rural Wyoming with urban Wyoming is turning out to be a hard puzzle for lawmakers are to solve. The chairman of the Corporations Committee, Dan Zwonitzer of Laramie has been the driving force behind dissolving House District 47. Zwonitzer said last week he’s opposed to the de-nesting plan—at least for now.
Last week’s meeting brought claims that denesting is “unconstitutional” from Representative Chuck Grey of Casper. Senator Chris Rothfuss of Laramie said he’s not a fan of de-nesting, but saying its’ unconstitutional is going too far.
Rothfuss said it’s troublesome, sticky and challenging,” but legal. Sommers also questioned Grey about the specifics of his charge. The Casper Republican did not respond. The Legal Service Office advises that denesting is allowed. Nothing in the constitution or statute it disallows it.
A big concern going into the budget session is that the politics surrounding redistricting could spoil other legislation. Representative Sommers does not sit on the Corporations Committee. His job as House Majority Leader is to help shepherd bills through the legislative process. Sommers said he’s concerned the contentious nature of the committee’s work could affect the entire session.
The committee chairmen told leadership that they may hold one or two more meetings later this month. The hope is to have a bill to county clerks by the end of the month for them to review and tweak before the start of the session. The legislature is scheduled to convene for the 30-day budget session on February 14th.