Kansas redistricting town halls are this week — here’s what you need to know about JoCo’s only scheduled session

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Overland Park will host one of 14 scheduled town halls across Kansas this week aimed at gathering public input for the redrawing state legislative and Congressional district boundaries. Some Democrats have criticized the schedule, which has put all 14 town halls in one week before detailed U.S. Census data has been released. File photo.

Kansas lawmakers will host 14 scheduled town halls across the state this week as part of a “listening tour” aimed at taking public input on the upcoming process to redraw state legislative and Congressional district boundaries.

Of those 14 sessions, one is planned for Johnson County.

Here is what you need to know:

When and where will the Johnson County town hall be?

  • Thursday, Aug. 12, from 1:45 to 3 p.m.
  • Matt Ross Community Center, 8101 Marty St., Overland Park

How can I give my comments at the town hall?

  • Any member of the public can attend any of the 14 statewide meetings, a full schedule of which can be found here.
  • Citizens who want to speak at Thursday’s town hall must register with the Kansas Legislative Research Division by Wed., Aug. 11.
  • You can sign up to speak by emailing redistricting@klrd.ks.gov or calling KLRD at 785-296-3181.
  • If you wish to include any form of media with your presentation, like video or a slide show, you are asked to make a note of that when you sign up.
  • A sign-up sheet will also be available the day of the town hall for anyone who did not register beforehand.

How much time will I be given to speak?

  • That will be determined at the town hall by the presiding co-chairs leading the meeting.
  • The KLRD information page for the redistricting “listening tour” says time allotments will be made at the “discretion” of the co-chairs.
  • Attendees who wish to speak are also encouraged to submit a written version of their testimony via the same email address above in case there is not enough time for all commenters to be heard at a town hall.

What if I can’t attend the town hall but still want to give my thoughts or follow along?

  • You can submit written testimony by emailing redistricting@klrd.ks.gov. KLRD asks that you flag such testimony as “written only.”
  • For your written testimony, you are asked to include your name, your affiliation (if any), your contact information and the date and location of the meeting at which the testimony is to be presented, at the top of the first page. Then, add an identifier to subsequent pages.
  • Anyone not in attendance can also find links to livestreams of all the town halls here.
  • More details about how to format spoken or written testimony can be found here.

Is this my only chance? Will there be other town halls in the future?

  • Possibly, though none have currently been scheduled.
  • Some Democratic lawmakers have criticized the time frame of the current town hall schedule, arguing that the overall schedule is too compressed and each session too short to allow for a full accounting of public opinion. They’ve also bemoaned the fact that most of the sessions — including the one in Overland Park — are scheduled for weekdays during business hours, when many people will be working.
  • In response to that criticism, House Speaker Ron Ryckman of Olathe said last week that there will likely be more virtual town halls scheduled for the fall.

How were town halls conducted 10 years ago?

  • A spokesperson for the KLRD says in 2011, 14 town halls were conducted in the exact same places as they are planned for this year.
  • The biggest difference in 2011 was that redistricting town halls that year were spread out over three months, instead of being conducted all in one week, and each session that year was slightly longer — at least two hours each.
  • Still, all the 2011 town halls were held on weekdays during business hours, like most of the sessions this year.

What’s at stake?

  • This is a once-in-a-decade process to redraw state legislative and Congressional district boundaries, which in turn, could impact citizens’ representation in Topeka and Washington, D.C.. for the next 10 years.
  • There is already some political controversy over this latest redistricting process. Last year, outgoing Republican Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle said the GOP needed to maintain its supermajorities in the legislature in 2020 (which the party ended up doing), so it could control the redistricting process in order to redraw the state’s Third Congressional District to make it harder for Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids to win reelection.
  • That has been the backdrop to recent flaps over the town hall schedule, which Democrats say is proof Republicans are trying to rush the process. Republicans in charge of the legislative redistricting committee say the schedule will afford ample opportunity for the public to share their thoughts.

What happens after the town halls?

  • After public input, it will be up to the state legislature to redraw new district maps when it convenes for its 2022 session.
  • Gov. Laura Kelly will have to approve whatever plan the legislature forwards to her desk, but with supermajorities in the state House and Senate, Republicans will have the ability to override any potential veto.
  • The last time redistricting occurred in 2011, lawmakers were not able to come up with a plan, and a federal court had to step in and draw the boundaries that are still currently in use.

Do we know what the 2020 Census found?

  • No. The U.S. Census Bureau says it expects to release “in-depth demographic statistics” that will be used to help redraw political maps on Monday, Aug. 16.
  • This is another point of criticism for the current town hall schedule. All the public input sessions currently scheduled will happen before anyone participating in them knows any district-level data on Kansas’ population as accounted for in the 2020 Census.