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State Redistricting Bill Passes Senate

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TIMES STAFF WRITER:

Senate Democrats and Republicans reached rare agreement Wednesday night and voted overwhelmingly to redraw U.S. House and state Senate districts designed to preserve the partisan status quo for the next 10 years.

The bills, shepherded by Sen. Don Perata (D-Alameda), mirrored an agreement among congressional and legislative incumbents to reshape districts according to population changes of the 1990s, but to keep the current ratio of majority Democrats to minority Republicans.

In the Senate, Democrats outnumber the GOP by 26 to 14. Democrats also outnumber Republicans in the California House delegation, 32 to 20.

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On a 38-2 vote, the redistricting bill (AB 632) went to the Assembly for expected swift ratification today or Friday, the final stop before it reaches centrist Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, who had insisted that it be a bipartisan plan.

The Assembly is expected to pass its redistricting plan today, also preserving the existing partisan lineup in the lower chamber of 50 Democrats and 30 Republicans.

The House and Senate plans had been attacked over the last two weeks by Latino and Asian American activists, who said they fell short of reflecting population gains of minority communities. But the bills adopted Wednesday were substantially the same as when they were proposed.

Participants said the incumbent protection package is aimed at keeping the minority status of the GOP from deteriorating further. In exchange, Republicans agreed to provide the two-thirds super-majority needed to make the program immune to a referendum, which they had threatened.

The plans drew a mixed response from the Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund, which had proposed its own redistricting scheme.

MALDEF praised a provision to create new “border” districts along the international boundary with Mexico that would link Latino communities in parts of San Diego and Imperial counties in the legislative and congressional bills and establish a Latino-leaning Senate district in the San Joaquin Valley.

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But Amadis Velez of MALDEF said the organization may challenge in court what he called the “dilution and fracturing” of the Latino community in the San Fernando Valley between the districts of Democratic Reps. Howard L. Berman and Brad Sherman.

He said that in spite of efforts to compromise, about 170,000 Latino voters in Berman’s district had been politically weakened by shifting them to Sherman’s neighboring district.

Velez said that as a result, Latinos may no longer be able to have an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. That would be a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act, he said.

“We believe it is unacceptable for the Latino community to go backward in terms of their gains and voting rights,” Velez said.

The plans also drew criticism from Alan Clayton of the California Latino Redistricting Coalition.

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