Kansas lawmakers will hold 12+ public hearings on redistricting. Delayed Census info will make timeline murky.

Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas is moving forward with redistricting meetings as the state awaits county-level figures from the Census Bureau. Sen. Rick Wilborn, R-McPherson, is the chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee.

Kansas lawmakers will again hold over a dozen public hearings on the redistricting process throughout the state, as top legislators signed off on the plan Wednesday.

The 14 meeting setup follows a well-worn plan, with the same number of hearings conducted in 2011, the last time maps were redrawn in Kansas. 

The statewide hearings, to be held in Dodge City, Garden City, Hays, Hutchinson, Leavenworth, Pittsburg and Salina, among other cities, will be open to the public and will be streamed virtually, although testimony can only be offered in person or in writing.

But the question of timing remains a thorny one for lawmakers.

The once-in-a-decade redistricting process redraws the boundaries for the state's four Congressional seats, the Kansas House, Kansas Senate and the State Board of Education.

Kansas isn't set to lose a Congressional seat, like some other states, but changes in demographics will likely mean a shift in the makeup of the state Legislature, with more an emphasis on Johnson County and the suburban areas surrounding Kansas City, Mo.

More:Here are the four ways Republicans could redraw the map so only Republicans represent Kansas in Congress

Republicans also may attempt to complicate the re-election bid of Kansas' lone Congressional Democrat, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, either by moving parts of Wyandotte County to the largely rural 1st Congressional District or by shifting parts of rapidly expanding Johnson County to the 2nd Congressional District, which currently includes Topeka and Lawrence — both moves which Democrats would likely object to.

But this process is predicated on data from the U.S. Census Bureau — figures which aren't set to arrive until August, at the earliest, after delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic in conducting the decennial survey of Americans.

Kansas officials have set the number of public hearings on the state's redistricting process, although delays in distributing U.S. Census Bureau data to the states could affect their timing.

That is less of a problem in Kansas than in other states, many of whom are having to delay the map drawing process or bend constitutional requirements due to the delay. Kansas officials wouldn't generally start the redistricting in earnest until early 2022 anyway.

But the public hearings are generally held over the summer and fall. That means members will have to decide if they forge ahead without the data or move at warp speed in the fall once those numbers are in hand.

More:Kansas sees 3% population growth over past decade, the lowest uptick since 1900

Sen. Rick Wilborn, R-McPherson, the chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, said that he was skeptical of starting before the data was in hand but noted his colleagues wanted to move more quickly.

While he hasn't yet talked with his counterpart in the House, Rep. Chris Croft, R-Overland Park, Wilborn said the initial thought was the meetings would be spread out over the month of August.

Even though lawmakers didn't have the exact county-level figures supplied by the Census Bureau, he added that members had a good idea of what the trends would likely entail: population growth around Kansas City, Kan., flatlining population in Wichita and decline in western, north-central and southeast Kansas.

“I would rather have the numbers," Wilborn said. "But we don't have them, it is not our fault. The last two redistricting (years) they had the numbers by mid-May, and since that isn't a possibility, we just have to move on."