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Lawmakers begin special session on redistricting

By CAROLINE BECK and TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News 

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – As the gavels sounded to bring the Alabama Legislature into special session Thursday, many lawmakers were getting a first detailed look at how their districts would be redrawn following the 2020 Census.

Some are happy with the changes so far, some are not, and many are not seeking reelection to begin with. Ready or not, the new maps for State House and Senate, Congress and state school board have now been introduced to begin their journey through the legislative process.

In the Senate, most lawmakers expressed optimism that their new districts would eventually pass, thanks to kinks being worked out the last few weeks.

“I feel like in the Senate, we have enough support to get the job done and pass it on down to the House,” Reapportionment Committee co-chair Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, said.

While basic statewide maps were posted online Wednesday, detailed maps down to the street level are still not available for public view. McClendon said the drafting process has “been a challenge,” but the intent is to also post publicly district-level maps and any alternative maps introduced.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said after the House adjourned that he has heard concerns from some Republican members, but doesn’t think the majority are opposed to the new maps.

“Everybody’s not 100% on board and so that’s where the process is going to come in and we’re listening and going to work through it,” McCutcheon said.

Rep. K. L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, told ADN he was not happy about how his district, House District 40, has been redrawn, which would now include all of Cleburne County and would exclude the cities of Alexandria and Ohatchee.

“I just feel like because I’m not running for reelection, that my district was kind of compromised to make somebody happy that is running for reelection and I just don’t like that,” Brown said.

Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, who was a member of the redistricting committee told ADN he was fine with how his district has been drawn and thought the committee’s work was fair and equitable.

“They’re not going to be able to please everybody, but all in all it’s what we started out to do, which is to be fair and be according to the law,” Wood said.

Some would-be lawmakers are paying close attention as well.

Leigh Hulsey, who narrowly lost the special House District 73 GOP runoff to now-Rep. Kenneth Paschal, R-Pelham, said Thursday she will no longer reside in that district under the new proposal. Hulsey had previously told ADN she planned to run for HD73 in 2022. Now, she’ll run for the open House District 15 seat being vacated by Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla.

Huntsville’s growth

All the maps take into account population growth around Huntsville, now the state’s largest city.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said population growth means his Senate District 4 will shrink a bit in Limestone and Madison counties. Most of the district is still in Morgan County.

“I am pleased to continue working among the three counties,” Orr said.

Rep. Parker Moore’s House District 4 would lose some geography in Morgan and Limestone counties and pick up a sliver of Madison County.

Moore said the population grew in the portion of Limestone County he represents because of the Mazda-Toyota plant and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s expanding presence at Redstone Arsenal.

“People are moving in for all those jobs,” Moore, R-Hartselle, said.

He said the area he’d pick up in Madison County is much like the Limestone area he represents and also part of Madison City.

Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, said based on what she’d seen so far, the district she’s represented since 2010 hasn’t changed significantly.

Racial disparities 

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said he is concerned with the maps being proposed because he believes they show racial packing.

“The maps tell me that we’re not going where we should be going based upon how we are allowing people to represent their constituencies that they’re comfortable with as opposed to constituencies of diverse backgrounds,” Daniels said.

Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, filed a bill Thursday for a congressional map that allows for two majority-minority congressional districts, instead of the current one, District 7.

Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, did not share any complaints about how her district was drawn but believes another majority-minority congressional district could be drawn and would be overall beneficial for the state.

“There are enough African Americans to have another influence district, which would be more of a purple district, where someone would really have to fight. I would love to see a race like that in Alabama where somebody really had to look at all of their constituents and have to answer to all of them,” Coleman told ADN.

McCutcheon said he does not expect a congressional map that has a second majority-minority district to be approved in the House.

Felicia Scalzetti, an organizer with Alabama Election Protection Network, said during a media briefing put on by the Southern Poverty Law Center on Thursday that the fact the state still has the same amount of majority-minority districts should be a sign of concern.

“What we see in Alabama particularly, is this sort of extreme partisanship where our democratic districts are very, very democratic, or Republican districts are very, very Republican and what this does is it essentially makes the primary the real election,” Scalzetti said. “….so whatever number of people that typically show up for that election then becomes the voter base that you are responsive to. That is not how democracy should work.”

South Alabama Senate changes

Some significant changes to the Mobile area’s State Senate districts aren’t going over well for some. Under the draft plan, Democratic Sen. Vivian Figures’ Senate District 33 would extend across Mobile Bay into Spanish Fort in Baldwin County. Figures said she is “totally against” that district shift and so are many would-be constituents.

“We’ll just have to see what happens. I found out this morning that the citizens of that area in Baldwin County do not want it either, and I don’t take that personally. They don’t want to be split from the other citizens of Baldwin County. If it happens, I’m perfectly capable of representing that area but I think it would be best if we did not put Senate District 33 in Baldwin County.
“In light of the fact that now that the citizens are crying out I’m hoping the legislators will listen.”
Sen. Greg Albritton’s Senate District 22 would lose all of Clarke County and what it had of Monroe County, while picking up larger portions of Mobile and Baldwin counties.
“It is what it is,” Albritton said.  “I’m not happy to lose Monroe County or Clarke County and I’m picking up parts of Mobile and Baldwin I’ve never represented. But that’s all because of the population changes and I accept that.”

Others of the Mobile and Baldwin County delegation expressed satisfaction with how the new districts are drawn so far.

Pandemic appropriations

Also introduced Thursday was legislation to disperse about $80 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars to Alabama hospitals and nursing homes. As introduced, $40 million would go toward hospitals and $40 million toward nursing homes to help make up for lost revenue experienced during the delta variant surge the state saw in late summer and fall.

Other issues

Some lawmakers have introduced bills not pertaining to redistricting or pandemic appropriations. Six bills relating to vaccine mandates were introduced along with Sen. Rodger Smitherman’s legislation delaying the Alabama Literacy Act’s third grade hold back provision.

It’s a high bar for legislation not on the agenda to pass in a special session, requiring a two-thirds vote of both chambers to take them up. House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said he thought it was best for the Legislature to stick with the tasks at hand.

Action resumes Friday morning with at least two committee meetings. The House State Government Committee will have the congressional and Alabama House of Representatives maps before it. The Senate General Fund committee is also scheduled to meet, but its agenda hadn’t been released as of Thursday evening.

Alabama Daily News reporter Mary Sell contributed to this report.

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