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A South Side resident and state House candidate has offered a set of amendments to the legislative redistricting plan for Billings and Yellowstone County.

Weldon Birdwell has proposed changes in Plan 300, the redistricting plan devised by Democrat Joe Lamson, which is expected to prevail over alternate plans 100, 200 and 400.

Lamson is one of five members of the Districting and Apportionment Commission. His Plan 300 takes the current House Districts 13 and 17 and rearranges them into four districts, elongated east to west.

The Legislative Services Division has prepared Plans 100, 200 and 400 for the once-a-decade reapportionment of Montana's legislative districts. A side-by-side comparison, with maps, will appear on Monday's editorial page in The Billings Gazette.

Democrats have a 3-2 majority on the commission, which during its meeting March 27 in Billings approved Plan 300 with amendments for the north-central and northeastern regions. The commission also took public comment on the redistricting plans for the southeastern and south-central regions.

Republicans Jack Rehberg, of Billings, and Dean Jellison, of Kalispell, are commission members. The panel's other Democrats are former Rep. Sheila Rice of Great Falls and commission presiding officer Janine Pease Pretty on Top, of Lodge Grass.

At the March 27 hearing, the commission heard harsh criticism of Plan 300's treatment of the South Side. Overall, Plan 300 was generally panned by Republicans and praised by Democrats. But area residents and members of both political parties, including Birdwell, were critical of the recarving of HD 13 and HD 17.

Birdwell, a resident of the area and a Republican candidate in HD 13, acknowledged that his efforts could be construed as self-serving.

"But Plan 300 cuts up the districts into little segments by slicing and dicing the neighborhoods," he said this week. "I live in the neighborhood and I want to see the right thing done."

Birdwell has submitted three amendments that, he said, would not create any imbalance among districts. Population within a district may vary by 5 percent from the norm of about 9,000 persons.

He said his suggestions comply with the mandatory criteria for compactness, correcting "the indefensible districts which were merely a few blocks wide, yet many miles long."

The amended districts also comply with the mandatory criteria to avoid weakening minority votes; to keep intact long-established communities of common interest; to acknowledge existing political units, and to recognize distinct geographic boundaries.

"The amended districts more closely mirror our council wards, school lines, and repairs the splintering which would be inflicted upon both our South Side and low-income neighborhood task force areas," he said.

Those wishing to provide written comments on the plans must submit them to the commission by Thursday. The address is Districting and Apportionment Commission, Attention: Susan Fox, P.O. Box 201706, Helena MT 59620-1706. Fox will place the comments in the permanent file and will make copies available to each commission member.

The commission will make its preliminary decision on the south-central and southeastern regions at its May 1 meeting.

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