BATON ROUGE—Louisiana's lawmakers will call themselves into a special legislative session for the first time in history, when they come in March to redraw the state's political district lines.
Rep. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, the chairman of the House committee that deals with redistricting, announced Monday that lawmakers have gathered enough signatures on a petition to call their own special session - instead of waiting for the governor to do it for them.
Baton Rouge Press Club.
House Clerk Alfred "Butch" Speer said lawmakers have never previously called their own session since a constitutional provision in 1954 was added to allow them to do so. "Never in history, this is it," he said.
Gallot, chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the session will begin March 20 and could last until April 13.
The gathering is required to rework congressional, legislative, Public Service Commission, state education board, Louisiana Supreme Court and appeals court districts to account for population shifts over the last decade.
By calling it themselves, lawmakers decided what items will be included in the special session instead of the governor.
Gov. Bobby Jindal said he didn't object to legislators calling the redistricting session themselves. He said lawmakers talked to him about the idea for months, including working out the dates and the mechanics with him.
"I'm obviously interested in redistricting because it impacts our state, but unless we were planning on annexing Texas or
Mississippi, I'm running statewide so it really doesn't (impact me.) Redistricting's obviously much more important to them personally. I think they like the idea of calling themselves into session," the governor said.
Nearly all the state's lawmakers signed the petition by Monday afternoon: 96 members of the 105-member House and more than 30 senators in the 39-member Senate, Speer said. Other senators were still seeking to add their names to the document, which had been signed by both Senate President Joel Chaisson and House Speaker Jim Tucker.
The redistricting is tied to the release of the 2010 Census data, which is expected in February. The U.S. Justice Department must approve the redrawn districts before they can be used in the fall 2011 elections.
The session is expected to be a contentious one because post- Hurricane Katrina population shifts will force significant changes in the political maps, and Louisiana is predicted to lose a congressional seat due to population declines.
Behind-the-scenes debates already have begun about how to redesign the maps, particularly looking at how to shrink the state's congressional delegation from seven members to six and which two incumbent congressmen's districts should merge.
Gallot said some coastal legislators are proposing the design of a coastal congressional district that would stretch across the bottom of the state, arguing the parishes have many issues in common, like hurricane protection and coastal erosion. Currently, two congressional districts contain coastal parishes.
Other lawmakers are arguing to merge north Louisiana parishes - which are split between two congressional districts - into one district that contains both Monroe and Shreveport. The chairman of the Senate redistricting committee, Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, has said he objects to such a plan, however.