Thursday, January 20, 2011

Votes to Note: Senate Rules Re-Districting Amendment

Today the Massachusetts Senate has begun debate on the Rules for the 2011-2012 Legislative Session. One amendment that the Senate Republican Caucus filed ordered the establishment of an independent re-districting commission. The commission would strengthen the redistricting process by including an independent perspective with the drawing of new congressional and state district lines, unfortunately it failed by a roll call vote of 5-34.

To view the text of the amendment or the actual vote taken by the members of the Senate please click the “Read more” link. Below is also a recent State House News article further detailing the debate establishing an independent re-districting commission.

Senate Dems Scuttle Independent Redistricting Panel

Relative to establishing an independent redistricting commission

Messrs. Tarr, Knapik, Hedlund and Ross move to amend the order (Senate, No. 6), by inserting after joint rule 1G the following new rule:

“1H. An independent redistricting commission, herein referred to as the commission, shall be convened and shall divide the commonwealth into congressional districts, 160 representative districts, 40 senatorial districts, and eight councilor districts. The federal census shall be the basis for determining congressional districts for the ten year period beginning with the first Wednesday of the third January following the commencement of the taking of said census. All districts shall comprise contiguous territory, shall be equal in population to the extent required by law, and shall comply with federal constitutional and statutory requirements. No district shall be drawn for the purpose or with the effect of diluting the voting strength of any group based on race, ethnicity or language minority status, or for the purpose of augmenting or diluting the voting strength of a political party, or any individual. In drawing district lines, the commission shall not consider residential address, party affiliation, or partisan voting history of any individual or groups of individuals, except to the extent necessary to avoid dilution of voting strength based on race, ethnicity or language minority status. In addition, to the maximum extent possible, district boundaries shall be drawn so as to: (1) maintain the unity of well-defined municipal neighborhoods; (2) observe municipal boundaries; (3) establish senatorial districts that follow representative district boundaries; (4) establish councilor districts that follow representative district boundaries and (5) promote geographic compactness of districts. If it is not possible to draw district boundaries that fully comply with these criteria while also complying with the mandatory requirements set forth herein, then districts shall be drawn to optimize the criteria in the order of priority set forth hereinabove. The commission shall also consider communities of interest in determining which cities, towns, or neighborhoods thereof to aggregate into a single district.

Within 30 days of the passage of this act, the following offices shall each appoint one member of the commission: the governor of the commonwealth, who shall appoint a dean or professor of law or political science or government at an institution of higher learning in the commonwealth; the attorney general of the commonwealth, who shall appoint a retired justice who resides in the commonwealth; and the secretary of the commonwealth, who shall appoint an expert in civil rights law who is a resident of the commonwealth.

By the same date, the house speaker, the house minority leader, the senate president, and the senate minority leader shall each nominate three individuals. The appointees chosen by the governor, attorney general, and secretary of the commonwealth shall then select one of the three nominees named by each said official within 7 days of their nomination.

If nominations or appointments are not made within 30 days of the passage of this act, the office responsible for making the appointment or nominations shall forfeit its rights under this section and the remaining direct appointees shall then make an appointment to fill the vacancy within 7 days. Nominations and appointments shall reflect the geographic, racial, ethnic, gender, and age diversity of the commonwealth to the maximum extent feasible and shall be selected on the basis of civic involvement and knowledge of redistricting policy, civil rights, political science, demographics or statistics, election expertise, voting rights, community organizing, or law. No person nominated or appointed to the commission, in the five years preceding such nomination or appointment, shall have held Congressional, state legislative or statewide elective office, or shall have served as mayor or city councilor of a city in the commonwealth, governor’s councilor, or shall have been elected to a state or federal party committee; or shall be a current employee, agent or family member of any of the above; or, in the two years preceding such nomination or appointment, shall have been a legislative agent. The commissioners shall agree: (1) not to stand for election to the general court, congress, or the governor’s council until districts are redrawn following the next census; (2) to apply the provisions of this article in an honest, independent, and impartial fashion; and (3) to act at all times so as to uphold public confidence in the integrity of the redistricting process.

The commission shall be convened no later than 60 days following the passage of this act. The commission shall disband only upon final adoption and exhaustion of judicial review of challenges to representative, councilor, and senatorial districts.

The commission shall hire staff and may retain experts to assist it in the performance of its duties. The commission shall establish rules governing its operation and procedures. Commissioners may receive compensation for actual time spent on commission duties and shall be reimbursed for reasonable and necessary expenses. The budget of the commonwealth shall provide adequate funding for the operation of the commission.

A member of the commission or an appointing authority may petition the supreme judicial court to remove a commissioner on the grounds of neglect, misconduct, or inability to perform the duties of a commissioner. A vacancy so created shall be filled by the office which appointed the removed commissioner or by the nomination and selection process set forth in section 6, as applicable.

All meetings of the commission shall be open to the public, consistent with the laws of the commonwealth concerning open meetings as of the date of the adoption of this Article. All documents produced by or for the commission shall be public. The commission shall hold public hearings in at least five geographically disbursed counties. The public shall be afforded the opportunity to submit proposed maps for consideration by the commission and the commission shall make map-making software available for public use. The commission shall take all steps necessary to ensure that the public can exercise its right to review and comment on proposed district maps before they are approved and shall publish all preliminary and final plans in publicly accessible forums that are free of charge and that ensure wide public distribution. Proposed districts shall be presented in both graphic and narrative form.

No later than April 20, 2011, the commission shall prepare and publish for public comment a preliminary plan for representative, councilor, and senatorial districts. The public shall have a three-week period to comment on the preliminary district plan. The commission may revise the preliminary district plan in response to public comment and shall, no later than May 11, 2011, submit the revised plan to the special joint committee on redistricting, as created by order of the general court, as adopted by the senate on January 29, 2009 and adopted by the house on March 5, 2009, which shall vote on the revised plan. If the plan is rejected by either the committee or the general court, the commission shall prepare, publish, revise, and submit a second-round preliminary district plan in the same manner as the first within 30 days of the rejection of the initial plan. Following the three-week period for public comment, the commission may revise the preliminary district plan in response to public comment and shall submit the revised plan to the joint committee for a vote no later than July 29, 2011.

With respect to each plan the commission submits to the joint committee for a vote, the vote must be taken within two weeks of submission. No amendments to the plan as submitted may be made. If the plan is approved by a majority of the joint committee present and voting, or if no vote is taken within the two-week period, it shall be submitted to the general court for a vote. With respect to each plan the joint committee submits to the general court for a vote, the vote must be taken within two weeks of submission. No amendments to the plan as submitted may be made. If the plan is approved by a majority of the members of the house of representatives and the senate present and voting or if no vote is taken within the two-week period, then the plan as submitted shall become law.

Original jurisdiction is hereby vested in the supreme judicial court upon the petition of any voter of the commonwealth for judicial relief relative to the establishment of the congressional districts. The general court may by law limit the time within which judicial proceedings may be instituted to challenge any redistricting map."

Roll Call Votes: Yea Nay

Steven A. Baddour: Nay
Frederick E. Berry: Nay
Stephen M. Brewer: Nay
Gale D. Candaras: Nay
Harriette L. Chandler: Nay
Sonia Chang-Diaz: Nay
Katherine Clark: Nay
Cynthia Stone Creem: Nay
Sal N. DiDomenico: Nay
Kenneth J. Donnelly: Nay
Eileen Donoghue: Nay
Benjamin B. Downing: Nay
James B. Eldridge: Yea
Susan C. Fargo: Nay
Barry Finegold: Nay
Jennifer L. Flanagan: Nay
John Hart: Nay
Robert L. Hedlund: Yea
Patricia D. Jehlen: Nay
Brian A. Joyce: Nay
John Keenan: Nay
Thomas P. Kennedy: Nay
Michael R. Knapik: Yea
Thomas M. McGee: Nay
Joan M. Menard: Nay
Mark C. Montigny: Nay
Michael O. Moore: Nay
Richard T. Moore: Nay
Senate President Therese Murray: Did Not Vote
Marc R. Pacheco: Nay
Anthony Petruccelli: Nay
Michael Rodrigues: Nay
Stanley C. Rosenberg: Nay
Richard J. Ross: Yea
Michael Rush: Nay
Karen E. Spilka: Nay
Bruce E. Tarr: Yea
James E. Timilty: Nay
Steven A. Tolman: Nay
James Welch: Nay
Daniel Wolf: Nay