JEFFERSON CITY — A Senate committee passed a resolution Thursday that would exclude non-citizens from the state’s population count when it comes to redistricting.
House Joint Resolution 100, sponsored by Rep. Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, would make it so only U.S. citizens are counted in the population used in reapportionment.
While Plocher received criticism from witnesses who said the proposal treats non-citizens as unequal, he said this measure would actually encourage people to become U.S. citizens faster.
“I would love to see people become citizens, and I think the apportionment process being tied to citizenship protects the one-person, one-vote and it also encourages people not just to be permanent residents but to become U.S. citizens,” Plocher said.
Plocher stressed this is not an immigration bill.
During the hearing, Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, quickly grabbed the microphone to speak against the resolution, saying non-citizens should be counted when her district is redrawn.
”They’re folks that I represent,” Walsh said.
Walsh said the path to citizenship is a “very hard path... I don’t think we can pass the test or jump through the hoops that are required by these individuals.”
Walsh worried that non-citizens would not be counted in the U.S. Census, which is taken every 10 years, but Plocher reassured her that they would be.
“The census is not affected here,” Plocher said. “The census certainly considers these important individuals.”
Plocher said the resolution only impacts the count for state reapportionment, so it would not impact congressional seats and would not put the state at a disadvantage.
But Kenneth Schmitt with the American Immigration Lawyers Association thinks otherwise. He testified against the resolution and said it does not create an incentive for non-citizens to stay here.
“They are a vital part of our community,” Schmitt said. “We need to be able to continue to attract them and keep them here if the state is to remain competitive.”
Caroline Fan, executive director of Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates, said this resolution “does not afford them the opportunity to be treated equally and fairly.”
“A bill like this doesn’t incentivize people to come and move to Missouri,” Fan said.
Among those speaking against the proposal was a representative of Clean Missouri. According to previous reporting, the organization said it gathered 346,956 signatures and turned them in to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office earlier this month to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot that deals in part with reapportionment.
The Clean Missouri initiative does not mention citizenship when it comes to district maps.
Clean Missouri proposes a number of things, one of which makes sure “neither political party is given an unfair advantage when new maps are drawn after the next census by asking a nonpartisan expert to draw fair legislative district maps,” according to its website.
Under Plocher’s proposal, if the legislative body fails to appropriate funds for such a “reapportionment official,” then members of the House and Senate would take over.
When asked after the hearing if his proposal hampers the Clean Missouri initiative, Plocher said, “No, it stands on its own, and Clean Missouri has it’s own initiative as well, so Clean Missouri deals with the geographical drawing of the districts.... Mine simply deals with the populations that you consider in apportionment.”
Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, said he’s going to do whatever he can to stop Plocher’s proposal from being put on the ballot.
“That whole thing is designed to thwart Clean Missouri, and so it needs to go away because Clean Missouri is one of the best proposals to come along,” Schaaf said.
Sean Soendker Nicholson, director of Clean Missouri, testified against the resolution and said it seeks to undermine the Clean Missouri measure before it has even been certified for the November ballot.
“The supporters of HJR 100 have a proposal that would allow future legislatures in future years to overrule the will of the people and set up a redistricting process that would eliminate the provisions of the Clean Missouri measure,” Nicholson said.
Nancy Miller with the League of Women Voters of Missouri agreed.
“Unfortunately the authors of HJR 100 are attempting to undermine the voices of their constituents and Missourians from all political backgrounds all over the state,” Miller said.
Plocher said that “there are some things with Clean Missouri that I like, some things I don’t, and I wanted this to stand alone.”
Plocher’s resolution also prohibits reapportionment officials from accepting lobbyist gifts, which Plocher said provides more transparency.
“The resolution calls for no private money to compensate those that are part of the apportionment process, and right now that’s not the case,” Plocher said. “Anyone can pay anyone to be part of the apportionment process and there’s no disclosure on who’s paying who, so I think that brings about greater transparency and accountability on who funds the apportionment.”
The Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics Committee voted 4-2 in favor of Plocher’s proposal.
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