- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s growing population and changing demographics will have a major impact on new congressional and state legislative maps to be drawn in coming months, an advisory committee picked by Gov. Martin OMalley said Wednesday.

The new districts must have roughly identical populations in a state that has seen substantial, but uneven growth over the past decade. Maryland’s population has grown by 9 percent since the 2000 census, to nearly 5.8 million residents.

“We want to make sure that the lines reflect the changing populations, and that the districts are compact and contiguous,” said committee member and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat.

The five-member committee will give its recommendations to Mr. O’Malley, who will submit his own proposal to state lawmakers charged with redrawing Maryland’s eight congressional and 47 state legislative districts.

Populations have grown in all but one of the states 24 jurisdictions since 2000, with Montgomery and Prince Georges counties - already the state’s two most-populous jurisdictions - taking on the most new residents.

However, the largest percentage growths were seen in Frederick, Charles, Calvert, St. Mary’s, Cecil and Queen Anne’s counties, which all grew by more than 17 percent. Statewide increases were mostly a result of an influx of minority residents, officials said.

Baltimore was the state’s lone jurisdiction to lose residents, with 4.6 percent - or about 30,000 - of its residents leaving the city in the past decade. As a result, its existing districts could be expanded to include residents from outside the city.

Federal law requires that congressional districts within the state be virtually identical numerically, meaning officials will aim to put exactly 721,529 residents into each of the eight districts.

Four of the congressional districts are overpopulated and will likely shrink, with Democratic Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer’s 5th Congressional District - which covers Southern Maryland and part of Prince Georges County - leading the way with more than 768,000 residents.

State legislative districts must also be close to identical numerically, but are allowed by state law to stray from their ideal population by as much as 5 percent. Each of the state’s 47 senatorial districts will have a target size of 122,813 people.

The majority party typically wields the most influence on redistricting, and it has been widely predicted that state Democrats will push for plans that give them a better chance in the state’s two Republican congressional districts and provide help for Democratic state legislators in the most competitive districts.

Officials are bound by guidelines that require them to avoid especially creative - or “gerrymandered” - maps with districts that unnecessarily cross jurisdictions or are not contiguous.

“You try to avoid the talk of partisan politics, but obviously it creeps into discussions,” Mr. Miller said of the process, which follows the census every 10 years. “We have both parties reflected in the makeup on the board, and Im sure both parties will submit plans.”

The state’s Republican Party submitted its proposed congressional map on Tuesday.

Residents will be able to submit their own proposals and provide input at a series of public hearings throughout the state. Officials have staged 12 public meetings in past years, but discussed holding fewer this year.

Mr. Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, noted how the committee has just two months to draft a congressional redistricting plan for the governor. They said fewer hearings could still allow for sufficient input.

“I think the big issue here is that there’s access for everybody to come,” Mr. Busch said.

The committee will submit its congressional plan this fall to Mr. O’Malley, who will then issue his own proposal for the General Assembly for it to consider during its October special session.

The process will then repeat for state legislative redistricting, with the assembly considering the governors proposal in January.

Committee Chairwoman Jeanne D. Hitchcock said the members expect to finalize the public hearing schedule by the end of this week, which will then be posted at the Maryland Department of Plannings website, at www.mdp.state.md.us.

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