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Panel weighs reducing redistricting hearings

ANNAPOLIS — Members of a panel on legislative redistricting in Maryland discussed reducing the number of public hearings on redrawing the state’s congressional districts during their first public meeting on Wednesday.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who is one of five panel members, said time constraints to produce a draft plan for a September hearing may make holding eight or nine hearings a better idea than the 12 that have been held during previous rounds of redistricting.

Maryland State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller

Miller, D-Calvert and Prince George’s, mentioned eight parts of the state that should each have a hearing, including western Maryland, the Eastern Shore and southern Maryland. He also mentioned Prince George’s, Montgomery, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, as well as the city of Baltimore.

“I just think maybe eight or nine might be appropriate,” Miller said.

The Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee, which Gov. Martin O’Malley announced on Monday, will submit a plan for redrawing Maryland’s eight congressional districts. The General Assembly is expected to gather for a special session during the week of Oct. 17 to take up the plan.

House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, agreed with Miller that it is worth considering fewer than 12 hearings. Busch, who also is on the panel, said the important issue is that people in all parts of the state have access to a hearing.

Jeanne Hitchcock, O’Malley’s secretary of appointments who is the chairwoman of the committee, said she will consider the possibility of eliminating duplicative hearings in some areas, but she said she has not decided. She said she planned to have a schedule of hearings by the end of the week.

Dan Friedman, an assistant attorney general and legal counsel to the General Assembly, said the state’s constitution requires more than one hearing, but it does not specify a number.

“I would tell you that two would probably satisfy the constitutional requirement,” Friedman said.

After the 1970 census, one public hearing was held for redistricting. The Court of Appeals ruled that there had to be more than one public hearing. As a result, there were five hearings during the redistricting process following the 1980 census. Then, 12 public hearings were held after the census counts during the redistricting process in 1990 and 2000.

The state’s congressional districts and its legislative districts in the General Assembly are being redrawn based on the results of the 2010 census. Lawmakers will take up redistricting for the state’s eight congressional seats in the October special session. The legislative redistricting plan will be submitted to lawmakers in January when they gather for their regular 90-day session.