The legislative challenge to choose a process for redistricting still hasn’t been settled. Lawmakers have just one week to get the job done.
On Friday, members of the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance two bills that each would create an independent commission to redraw election district boundaries for congressional and legislative seats. That means the competing measures both will move to the House of Representatives for consideration. The committee adopted some amendments for House Bill 211 and Senate Bill 15 that made them more closely aligned. But differences remain.
Chief among them: The Senate bill does not include a provision prohibiting the committee from considering the current political makeup of existing districts as it drafts a new plan.
With just over a week to go before this year’s legislative session ends, the prospect of lawmakers coming through with an independent redistricting plan is looking more likely. But some involved in the process still have concerns about Senate Bill 15, which the Senate unanimously approved Wednesday. The measure would create a seven-member citizens’ committee to gather public input and then come up with three possible redistricting plans for the Legislature to consider by year’s end.
The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to discuss the bill Friday. Assuming the committee approves the measure, it would go to the House floor for a final vote before heading to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk for a signature.
Some redistricting advocates want the legislation to include language that ensures tribal and pueblo governments are included in the process.
“The redistricting activities have to take into consideration local governments and their role on the Navajo Nation,” said Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission. Among his concerns: The bill as written says redistricting should not divide existing precinct boundaries.
Efforts to ensure New Mexico has an independent redistricting commission plan — once seen as an uphill climb at best — are now moving with momentum. The Senate voted 39-0 to approve a compromise bill that, if enacted into law, would play a major role in setting boundaries for Congress, the state Senate and House of Representatives, and the Public Education Commission later this year.
The substitute bill for Senate Bills 15 and 99 would create a seven-member panel to come up with a redistricting plan for the Legislature to approve by the end of the year. Provisions of the bill include the ability for legislative leaders from both parties in the Senate and House to choose four members. The New Mexico Ethics Commission will choose the other three members, one of whom would be a retired justice of the state Supreme Court or a retired judge of the state Court of Appeals.
“This citizens’ redistricting committee will go throughout the state and do a series of [public] hearings,” said Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque and co-sponsor of the legislation.
After taking public input, that group then will come up with three plans for redistricting and present them to the Legislature to consider during a special session slated for later this year.
Ivey-Soto added an amendment Tuesday that requires the commission to be appointed and ready to go to work by June 1. The legislation prohibits one political party from holding a majority on the commission.
There was little debate or discussion on the legislation, which started out as one of the slowest-moving bills of this year’s session. It now goes to at least one committee in the House.
Lawmakers on the Senate Rules Committee came to a quick compromise Monday on a measure they hope will set the state’s sometimes controversial redistricting process on a smooth path via an independent, bipartisan panel of people to redraw voting district boundaries. A substitute bill introduced by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat, gained the committee’s unanimous approval, replacing two competing Senate bills — including one sponsored by Ivey-Soto. Monday’s deal came only after Ivey-Soto took a verbal swipe at critics who accused him of opposing the idea of an independent redistricting committee because his initial bill called for a committee composed of legislators. “I take a little personal some of the comments that have been made about the perspective of the Legislature in the redistricting process,” he said.
He said his name had been used as a “barrier to independent redistricting. Shame on you, shame on you for doing that.”
New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf is facing sharp criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike over his opposition to having an independent commission oversee the state’s redistricting process. In particular, members of both parties were thrown by comments the Santa Fe Democrat made during a Zoom conference last week with Retake Our Democracy, an organization focused on social justice. Part of the discussion centered on bipartisan proposals in the Legislature to create a commission to take on the often controversial task of redrawing electoral district boundaries based on new census data. Egolf told panelists the plans could weaken Democrats’ advantage in the Legislature, “and the [Democratic] agenda goes out the window.” He said he did not understand why “Democrats want to unilaterally disarm and give advantage to the people who are trying to make the world a dirtier place, take rights away from people, make it harder to vote — all the things that we oppose.
Three bills lighting the way for the creation of a redistricting plan in New Mexico are waiting for their moment in the legislative spotlight.
But as the legislative clock moves closer to deadline — Thursday was the midway point of this year’s 60-day legislative session — supporters and sponsors of some of those bills worry they might not get a hearing in time.
Kathleen Burke, project director of Fair Districts for New Mexico, an Albuquerque advocacy group pushing for a fair redistricting plan, said she doesn’t want to see Senate Bill 199 “go where legislation goes to die.” Like its mirror image in the House of Representatives — House Bill 211 — SB 199 wold create a seven-member redistricting commission and lay out requirements for choosing members. It also would require the commission to hold at least six public meetings to generate input and would give it the responsibility of coming up with a number of options for redistricting. The commission then would deliver those plans to the Legislature, which would act on redistricting during a special session later this year. The Legislature could select one plan without amendment and present it to the governor for approval.
A House committee on Monday unanimously approved a bill that would allow the state to prepare for the major task of redrawing legislative districts based on population data from the 2020 census.
Among other measures, House Bill 211, co-sponsored by Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives, creates a seven-member redistricting commission, lays out requirements for choosing those members, initiates a series of public meetings and gives the panel the responsibility of coming up with a number of options for redistricting.
“By creating new rules and processes, this makes the process more engaging … with the public,” said Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences and one of the sponsors of the legislation. The bill, if signed into law, would allow the commission to adopt three to five district plans for four elected bodies — the state House and Senate, congressional districts, and the Public Education Commission. The commission then would deliver those plans to the Legislature, which would act on redistricting during a special session later this year. The Legislature could select one plan without amendment and present it to the governor for approval. If the Legislature does not select a district plan from any one set of plans, it will be required by law to select the plan the commission says best satisfies the requirements of the Redistricting Act.
Everybody around the state Capitol seems to have a favorite example. There’s the state House district in Northern New Mexico that is split in two by a mountain range and wilderness. You couldn’t drive across it if you tried. Then there’s the state Senate district that stretches some 180 miles from Santa Fe to Ruidoso. When it comes to political districts that have been precisely if nonsensically contorted, the New Mexico Legislature has got some real doozies.
Discouraged by seemingly endless court battles, gerrymandering opponents in some states are shifting their strategy two years before the 2020 census sparks another round of redistricting for legislative seats. Voters in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah will decide in November whether to have independent commissioners, rather than state lawmakers, draw congressional maps and the lines for state legislative seats. Except for Colorado, where lawmakers added the ballot measure, activists got these initiatives on the ballot by gathering signatures. And earlier this year, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that requires bipartisan support for new lines, though the power to draw them returns to the majority party if several redistricting attempts fail. The new system goes into effect in 2021.
A stripped down proposal that seeks to take partisanship and politics out of the redistricting process, as much as possible, passed its first test. The proposed constitutional amendment by Rep. Carl Trujillo cleared the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on a unanimous vote on Wednesday. The committee heard the bill for a second time, but in a very different form. Last week, members of the committee felt that the language was too detailed for the constitution. They instead preferred that specifics be left for “enabling legislation” that is in statute and not in the constitution.