Local News

Lawmakers Have About Four Working Days To Draw New Districts

Posted May 17, 2002

— Republicans asked for two working days, state lawmakers asked for 10; Superior Court Judge Knox Jenkins gave the General Assembly four working days, from 1 p.m. on May 14 to noon on May 20, to come up with new legislative district maps after the state Supreme Court ruled that the most recently approved plan unconstitutionally splits counties.

Jenkins had the authority to redraw the district maps himself, but said he has no intention of doing so if legislators can comply with his timeline.

State Rep. Ronnie Sutton, a Democrat from Pembroke and the chief House mapmaker, said he is less worried about the deadline and more concerned about opposition to the plan.

"There'll be members of both parties that'll lose their opportunities to retain their seat," Sutton said. "There's going to be members of both parties that won't like the plan and probably won't want to vote for the plan. It's going to be difficult to get it out on time."

Rep. Leo Daughtry, the Smithfield Republican who is House minority leader, said Republican votes should not be a problem.

"If it meets Constitution muster, if it has the criteria that the Supreme Court sets down, and it's very clear what that criteria is, then I suspect everybody will vote for it," Daughtry said.

Once it passes the Legislature, the redistricting plan will return to Knox's courtroom on May 22 for review.

Then, the maps will be sent to the federal Justice Department for a review that could take a month or more.

The best scenario is a late July or early August primary; a September date may be most realistic.

That date could be pushed up, though, if lawyers for the state are successful in their efforts to get the U.S. Supreme Court to grant an emergency stay, allowing elections to proceed with the districts approved last fall.

Jenkins announced his decision around 12:40 p.m., just a few minutes after the Johnston County courthouse was reopened following a brief evacuation.

The building was evacuated after a nearby gas main broke.

Construction crews putting in power lines around the courthouse cut two three-quarter-inch gas lines, according to an emergency services official.

A one block area was evacuated, including the courthouse and the 911 center, and utility crews turned off the gas.

The evacuation lasted about 30 minutes.

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