CHEYENNE -- Disparate population growth over the past decade could make reconfiguring Wyoming's legislative districts challenging, according to one of the lawmakers charged with leading the effort.
Members of the Joint Interim Committee on Corporations, Elections and Subdivisions will will decide how to proceed with the job of redistricting the Legislature when they meet in Cheyenne today.
The panel will look at 2010 Census data and then decide whether to adopt fundamental principles now or wait until later, said chairman Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander.
Those basic principles include whether to stay with the current structure of the Legislature with 30 Senate and 60 House seats with single-member districts. The House and Senate chambers, he noted, are limited in size.
Campbell County grew significantly in population over the past decade. This means that if the lawmakers stay with the 30-60 seat plan, the county's districts must be reduced in size.
Districts with less than average population growth will have to get bigger.
"Those districts in eastern Wyoming are already gigantic," Case said.
Senate District 1 in northeast Wyoming includes Crook, Weston and Niobrara counties and pieces of southeast Converse County and northeast Goshen counties.
Districts in the Big Horn Basin also have not kept up with population growth, meaning some of the districts will have to expand.
The problem is where the districts can expand to. Case said a district may have to cross a mountain range to pick up enough people.
"We have to make it work, population-wise," Case said.
Fremont County, including the Wind River Indian Reservation, also experienced considerable population growth.
Residents of Dubois in Fremont County, now in a district with Teton County, want to be part of the reservation district.
"That's difficult to figure out," Case said. "The whole Dubois thing is kind of a challenge."
The current ratio is one Senate district for every 18,000 people and one House district for about 9,000 people. The House districts currently are nested within the Senate districts.
The ratio will increase to one Senate district for 18,788 people and half that number for every House district under the current 30-60 seat structure.
The committee will have about 11 public meetings around the state to get the views of residents, Case said.
Of those, three will be regular committee business meetings, while the rest will be information-gathering sessions in regions of the state.
Local legislators and public officials will be invited to discuss the parameters in each region, such as whether Senate districts have to be larger or smaller.
Rep. John Patton, R-Sheridan, a committee member, said he would prefer the committee take the redistricting issue to the public with no boundaries on what can be considered.
"If we put all these other constraints on, it is not really a hearing," Patton said Monday.
The Wyoming Constitution gives the Legislature considerable latitude in setting the size of the House and Senate, he added.
The constitution says the number of House members cannot be less than twice nor greater than three times the number of senators.
Patton also said that House districts are nested within Senate districts now as a matter of convenience, not as a result of a court mandate.
Case said his goal is to have people say when it's all over that the committee did a good job, took into account everybody's position, was not partisan and didn't try to discriminate against minorities or gerrymander for partisan reasons.
"We want to take the high road on that," Case said.
The committee plan will go to the Legislature next year.