PROVIDENCE – The 18-member commission charged with redrawing the lines for the 75 House districts, 38 Senate districts and two congressional districts is giving Northern Rhode Island the cold shoulder.
The committee this week scheduled six public hearings across the state throughout October seeking public comment from citizens about what the new districts – which are being changed to reflect new population figures from the 2010 census – but none of those sessions will be held farther north than the Statehouse.
The reapportionment of voting power in response to population shifts is mandated by the U.S. and R.I. constitutions and is the primary reason that the census is conducted. The legislation creating the commission calls for it to “create districts that are as compact and contiguous as possible, taking into account ‘natural, historical, geographical and municipal and other political lines, as well as the right of all Rhode Islanders to fair representation and equal access to the political process.’”
The commission, comprised of 14 Democrats and 4 Republicans, and no members of the state’s third recognized political party, the Moderate Party, is co-chaired by Sen. Michael McCaffrey of Warwick and Rep. Stephen Ucci of Johnston
This is the schedule established by the commission this week:
— Tuesday, Oct. 11, 7 p.m. - Warwick City Hall, 3275 Post Road
— Thursday, Oct. 13, 7 p.m. - South Kingstown High School, 215 Columbia St., Wakefield
--- Monday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. - State House, Room 313, third floor
--- Wednesday, Oct. 19, 7 p.m. - Community College of Rhode Island Newport Campus,
1 John H. Chafee Blvd.
--- Thursday, Oct. 20, 7 p.m. - Johnston High School, 345 Cherry Hill Road
--- Monday, Oct. 24, 7 p.m. - Barrington High School, 220 Lincoln Ave.
Asked about the lack of meetings in the northern part of the state, House spokesman Larry Berman said, "Providence County is by far the largest of our state's counties, and that is why the redistricting committee is holding two public meetings in the county - in Johnston and in Providence - compared to one meeting in every other county. While there was no slight intended to Northern Rhode Island, we have a very small state and we encourage Northern RhodeIsland residents to attend the hearings scheduled for Johnston and Providence."
Once those hearing are completed, the commission will return to the Statehouse for five work sessions. Those meetings will be:
--- Wednesday, Nov. 2, 6 p.m. - Review public hearings
--- Wednesday, Nov. 16, 6 p.m. - Preliminary plan concepts
--- Monday, Nov. 21, 4 p.m. - Redistricting Subcommittee House workshop
--- Tuesday, Nov. 22, 4 p.m. - Redistricting Subcommittee Senate workshop
--- Monday, Nov. 28, 6 p.m. - Receive reports of subcommittees
The commission will announce an additional round of public hearings in each county and at the State House in late November and early December to gather public comments on the proposed redistricting plans developed during the meetings.
The commission must make its recommendation for new district lines and new election maps by Jan.15. Once a reapportionment bill becomes law, the new lines will be used for the 2010 election.
The General Assembly hired Election Data Services, Inc., to assist with the redistricting process, and the company has set up an office in the basement of the Statehouse. The company
has also established a Web site, www.riredistricting,com  ,to provide the public with information about the redistricting process. Video recordings of meetings and hearings, as well as PowerPoint presentations made at them, will be available there. A link to the site is provided on the General Assembly Web site, www.rilin.state.ri.us