JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri senator wants to require new districts for the state legislature to be developed during open meetings — a response to concerns raised about the secretive redistricting process used this year by a panel of appeals court judges.
Sen. Jason Crowell has proposed a constitutional amendment that would require commissions responsible for redistricting to comply with Missouri's public meetings and records law, commonly referred to as the Sunshine Law. He said redistricting is fundamental to the democratic process, and new boundaries for state legislative seats should not be drawn behind closed doors.
"Changing the makeup of a legislative district can have a dramatic effect on how Missourians' voice is represented in the Missouri Senate and House," said Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, who is barred by term limits from seeking re-election next year. "Judges should not be able to hide from citizens when making such important decisions."
Crowell's proposal will be considered by colleagues when the annual legislative session begins in January.
State legislative districts are redrawn each decade based on population changes recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau. During the past decade, Missouri's population grew by about 7 percent, but it was not equally distributed, with the southwestern corner and outer St. Louis suburbs adding more people while St. Louis County and St. Louis city shrunk.
Two bipartisan panels appointed by the governor — one for the House, the other for the Senate districts — were unable to agree on maps based on the new census figures. So, under the state constitution, the task fell to the Appellate Apportionment Commission.
The panel of six judges met and deliberated in secret about redistricting proposals after accepting public testimony for one day in October. The judicial panel said it did not think it was required to follow requirements under state open meetings for posting notices of its meetings and conducting most discussions in public sessions. A legal adviser for the panel said last month that the Missouri Constitution allows state redistricting panels to hold closed meetings as frequently as desired.
The judicial panel first released new maps for the 34-member Senate and 163-member House on Nov. 30. After swirling concerns about whether the boundaries of some Senate districts violated the state constitution, the judicial panel released a new Senate map last week. There was no public discussion by judges before the revised maps were released.
Under the Sunshine Law, public bodies must post notices of their meetings, which are supposed to start in a session open to the public. Meetings can be closed for discussions about some topics, such as litigation or personnel issues. The law applies to legislative, administrative or governmental bodies created by state law, the Missouri Constitution or by local ordinances.
Crowell said his proposed constitutional amendment would apply to any of the redistricting commissions.