News: Quick Takes

Proposal calls for 10 redistricting public hearings across N.C. next month

Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, chairs a redistricting meeting. (Image from YouTube)
Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, chairs a redistricting meeting. (Image from YouTube)

State lawmakers could hit the road from the coast to the mountains next month, for a series of 10 public hearings on redistricting. That’s if they follow proposals introduced in a joint House and Senate committee meeting Wednesday, Aug. 18.

Legislative mapmakers would head to Caldwell County during the week of Sept. 6. The following week, two groups of lawmakers would hold hearings on opposite ends of the state. One group would head to Mecklenburg and Jackson counties. The other would hit Nash, Pasquotank, and Pitt counties.

During the week of Sept. 20, legislators would conduct hearings in Durham and Forsyth counties. In the final week of September, the group would hear from public speakers in New Hanover and Robeson counties.

A vote on a final plan for public hearings could be scheduled next week.

“I think it’s important to recognize that we’re in an environment that may require potentially a lot of flexibility in being able to do these,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, co-chairman of Senate redistricting efforts. “We’ll put out the schedule. We’ll hold to it as we can. But we’re looking at virus requirements and other things that could impact any one of these.”

The meeting started with Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, offering a proposal for a “more transparent and public-friendly” redistricting process. Among her recommendations: Lawmakers would make it easier for the public to find redistricting information online. The public would have access to online comments submitted through the official redistricting web portal. Anyone could submit comments in person, online, or through the mail.

Harrison also recommended 13 statewide public hearings, with one in each of the state’s current congressional districts. She asked that the redistricting committees disclose any “third parties involved in redistricting,” including consultants and outside lawyers paid with state funds.

The committees took no action on Harrison’s proposals or on the draft public hearing schedule.

Multiple Democratic lawmakers suggested expanding the list of counties holding hearings.

“What I see missing are schedules in the exceptionally rural parts of the state,” said Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake. “I’d suggest one up in the northwestern part of the state — from Watauga County down. … The same thing with the northeastern part of the state.”

The draft plan makes no mention of another round of public hearings after lawmakers draft new congressional and legislative election maps. Hise suggested that redistricting committee leaders expect the draft maps to face the normal legislative hearing process in Raleigh.

“Unless somebody corrects me otherwise, that has been the historical utilization of the public hearing process,” he said. “We have not or aren’t considering any different proposal.”

That statement prompted one Democrat to respond. “If we’re only going to do one round of statewide hearings, it would be my thought that they would be more useful after draft maps are available,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg. “People are going to have reactions to the actual maps.”

Candidates are scheduled to start filing for congressional and legislative elections Dec. 6. Comments from an earlier joint redistricting committee meeting suggested that lawmakers needed to finish maps at least three weeks before that date. The State Board of Elections needs the time to prepare for the candidate filing period.