HELENA — Montana lawmakers said Friday they expect to seek changes to a recently completed plan to redraw the state's legislative map.
The Districting and Apportionment Commission is submitting the proposal to the Legislature for comment. The proposal was nearly three years in the making, and crafts 100 new state House and 50 new state Senate districts to align with 2010 population numbers. The plan is set to take effect for the 2014 election.
Commission Chairman Jim Regnier told a joint session of the House and Senate that the plan was carefully drawn to meet legal and constitutional requirements. He said the panel was able to draw House districts with less than 1 percent population difference between them.
Regnier is a former Montana Supreme Court justice selected as an impartial chairman of the panel.
"My goal in the process was to move the commission toward compromise," Regnier said. "I think, overall, we were successful in doing this."
Regnier said the process was difficult. Moving one line in a district ripples across the entire map, he said.
"Our commission looks forward to your bipartisan recommendations and the completion of our work," he told the Legislature.
Some Republicans said they believe Democrats got a better deal in key urban and suburban districts. Lawmakers have until early next month to offer formal comment, but the commission is not required to make any more changes.
Senate President Jeff Essmann, a Republican, said the current proposal could be challenged in court as unconstitutional. One issue, he said, is that it unfairly assigns newly elected state Sen. Roger Webb to a different part of Billings. He said that move would also mean one section of Billings that last voted in a state Senate race in 2010 would not be able to do so again until 2016.
He said that situation denies those residents the same chance to vote for representation as others in the state.
Essmann said the plan, if unchanged, is ripe for legal challenge.
Commissioner Joe Lamson, a Democrat on the panel, called the claim unfounded.
"This plan will sustain any court challenges," he said.
Lamson said assigning holdover senators to new districts inevitably leaves some voters with six years between votes for a state senator. Senate terms are four years. Half of the chamber's 50 senators are up re-election each cycle.
Republicans have also had issues with the way a part of Butte was joined with Jefferson County as a single Senate district, and the assignment of a term-limited Democratic state senator from Helena to a rural district in a way they say unfairly delays a chance for the GOP to claim the seat.