Re-precincting bill pops, but no timeline on new maps

Boston Statehouse

Senate President Karen Spilka told reporters Monday that her branch was looking at possibly adding the reprecincting conference report to its Thursday session agenda if it passes the House. (Sam Doran/SHNS)

BOSTON (SHNS) – The state Legislature will try to get the decennial redistricting process “done as soon as we can” and could send Gov. Charlie Baker a bill involving the timeline for drawing local precincts on Thursday, Senate President Karen Spilka said.

A conference committee on Monday filed compromise legislation (H 4118) that will give municipalities more time to draw their voting wards and precincts this year. Usually, cities and towns face a June 15 deadline to complete their reprecincting process, a date that comes before lawmakers carve up the state into new Congressional, legislative and Governor’s Council districts.

This year’s redistricting efforts have been complicated by pandemic delays, and the Census Bureau’s initial population data release came on Aug. 12, later than usual and after the June 15 deadline.

The conference committee’s bill will allow the Legislature to go first, and then give municipalities 30 days to complete their work after new maps for state and federal offices are finalized, as long as they finish by Dec. 15.

“It’s in front of us, and we could do it Thursday,” House Speaker Ron Mariano said of the reprecincting bill. Both the House and the Senate plan to meet in formal sessions Thursday.

If the House passes the bill Thursday, Spilka said the Senate is looking at “trying to do it Thursday also, to get it to the governor’s desk.” The Senate has three other bills — involving student nutrition, sex education curriculum, and gender identification on birth records — teed up for consideration on Thursday.

The Massachusetts Constitution requires state representatives to live in their district for one year before they are elected, giving lawmakers until Nov. 8, 2021 to get through the redistricting process without creating hurdles for incumbents or candidates who might be drawn out of their current districts.

It’s not yet clear when the Redistricting Committee, led by Senate President Pro Tempore William Brownsberger and Assistant House Majority Leader Michael Moran, will put forward its proposed maps.

Mariano, after meeting with Spilka and Gov. Charlie Baker Monday afternoon, said he has “no idea” when the maps will be available.

“I know in the Senate and I think in the House, the chairs have talked about getting it done, letting legislators see draft copies, getting it to the public as well for comments in time, but it is a more complicated process this time, with shifts in population and whatnot, so we’ll try to get it done as soon as we can,” Spilka said.

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