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Conference committee approves redistricting plan

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A House-Senate conference committee has approved a redistricting plan that could be voted on by the full House this week.

Under the plan, each of the new congressional districts would include urban and rural areas, said Sen. Loyd Benson, D-Frederick, chairman of the House Redistricting Committee.

``When you are trying to get nearly 700,000 people into each district, the metropolitan areas are where you get the base of the population,'' Benson said.

Democrats, who have a majority of senators and state representatives on the conference committee, circulated the plan among conferees Monday with intentions of voting on it later this week. The bill was signed out of conference later in the day.

Democrats believe there will be some Republican support for the plan, although House GOP leader Fred Morgan said he anticipates Gov. Frank Keating will veto it.

House Republicans were briefed on the plan but haven't taken a stance on it.

Oklahoma is losing one of its six congressional seats this year because the state's population did not grow as much as other states.

Lawmakers and Keating's office have been negotiating since last fall but have failed to reach an agreement on redistricting. Several plans, including one by Keating, have been proposed, and Keating has threatened to veto any plan he doesn't like.

As in earlier House proposals, the latest plan has Tulsa County being split between the 1st and 2nd districts. Most of the county would fall in the 1st District, but the western extension of the county would fall into the 2nd District, as would the Osage Hills area in northwest Tulsa.

The 1st District would encompass all of Kay, Noble, Osage, Pawnee and Washington counties and parts of Tulsa, Rogers and Wagoner counties.

Oklahoma County would be split among three congressional districts. The new 5th District, which would cover northwest Oklahoma; the 4th District, which covers southwestern Oklahoma; and the 3rd District, which would cover southeast Oklahoma, would converge in Oklahoma County.

Republican Rep. Ernest Istook, who represents the 5th District, would be included in the 3rd District under the new plan. The 3rd District would encompass southeastern Oklahoma, much of Cleveland County and part of Oklahoma County.

Istook has objected to past plans that would put him in another district. But Benson said more than 300,000 metropolitan residents in Cleveland and Oklahoma counties would be included in the new 3rd District.

Norman, now part of the 4th District, would become part of the 3rd District under the new plan. Fort Sill, Altus Air Force Base and Tinker Air Force Base would remain in the 4th District, which is represented by Republican Rep. J.C. Watts.

Republicans who attended the House Republican Caucus said probably a half dozen to a dozen Republicans expressed concern the new plan would split Cleveland County.

Benson said he expected a House vote as early as Wednesday. Senate President Pro Tem Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, said no time has been picked for presenting the plan to both chambers for a vote.
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