JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The Republican-led Missouri House passed its plan for redrawing the state's congressional districts Wednesday, merging two seats held by Democrats in the city of St. Louis and extending a southeastern Missouri district into the St. Louis-area.
State lawmakers are reconfiguring the state's current nine congressional districts into eight. Missouri lost one of its U.S. House seats this year when the 2010 census showed that the state's 7 percent population growth over the past decade did not keep pace with the rest of the nation.
The House took the unusual step Wednesday of giving the proposed congressional map preliminary approval and then passing it to the Senate on the same day. The legislation was endorsed 106-53. Three Republicans voted against the map, and four Democrats voted for it.
Rep. John Diehl, the chairman of the House committee responsible for redistricting, said the new boundaries were developed in a transparent way after hard work. He said concerns were considered but acknowledged that all could not be addressed.
"The map is compact, contiguous, and I'm convinced fairly represents all Missourians," said Diehl, R-Town and Country.
Much of the discussion has focused on the St. Louis-area. The map consolidates two congressional districts currently covering St. Louis city that are held by Democratic U.S. Reps. William Lacy Clay and Russ Carnahan and puts them into the 1st Congressional District. Clay and Carnahan oppose the plan, which they've said puts partisanship over fairness.
The proposed map also extends the 8th Congressional District north from southeastern Missouri to pick up part of Jefferson County near St. Louis. In all, Jefferson County would be split among three congressional districts.
St. Louis Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, one of the House Democrats who voted for the map, strongly urged colleagues to back the proposal.
"I support this bill 150 percent, and I ask that every African-American legislator in this body support the interests of the 1st Congressional District," Nasheed said.
Other Democrats criticized the map over geographical and political issues.
"Are we going to just give in to gerrymandering without even putting up a fight?" said Rep. Jonas Hughes, D-Kansas City. "We just simply give in and rollover. If that's what's become of Missouri's Democrats then perhaps we deserve that. Perhaps it's time to just rollover if that's what we're going to do."
Some Republican senators also have raised concerns about the map, including one lawmaker who dislikes how much of Jefferson County would be incorporated into the 8th Congressional District that covers his area.
Others have raised concerns about extending the 5th Congressional District held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver from Kansas City into several rural counties while carving out a significant chunk of Jackson County.
House Democrats offered three alternative redistricting proposals -- all of which were rejected Wednesday. Two proposals were put forward by St. Louis-area lawmakers and focused its changes on the Kansas City-area.
State Rep. Joe Aull, whose rural area would fall in the 5th District, proposed to sever the rural counties and keep Jackson County within one district. That proposal was backed by other state lawmakers from rural areas that would become part of Cleaver's district.
"It puts the urban people together. It puts the rural people together," said Aull, D-Marshall.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)