Residency requirement in play as House continues work on redistricting

A House redistricting plan could emerge as soon as next week as the Legislature faces an early November deadline for Massachusetts House candidates in 2012 to establish residency in their new districts.

“We’d love it to come out next week, but haven’t gotten a definitive answer on some questions, so I’m not ready to say that’s exactly when it’s coming out,” House Redistricting Chairman Michael Moran told the News Service.

Citing a new issue that cropped up hours before in Rep. Joseph Wagner’s Chicopee-based district relative to the new lines of that district being contiguous with adjacent boundaries, Moran said it was difficult to predict whether all concerns would be addressed by next week.

"The list of problems we’re having is getting smaller and we’re trying to work on all these types of issues. The reality is I don’t physically have a first draft complete that we could put out,” Moran said.

Anticipation for the plans, which could dictate some members’ political futures, has been slowly building as the days tick off the calendar. The Legislature appears on pace to match the timeline under which it presented and approved state House and Senate maps 10 years ago.

While the loss of one Congressional seat due to slow growing population over the past decade has garnered the bulk of the attention centered on redistricting, Moran said much of his time in recent weeks has been focused on finalizing the 160 districts in the House that also have to be redrawn to reflect population shifts.

Because candidates for the state House of Representatives must establish residency in the district they plan to run from one year prior to election day, the time sensitivity of completing a House map could trump immediate action on Senate or Congressional districts, according to legislative leaders.

“But we’re going to do it. We’re going to do it next week,” Rep. Ellen Story, an Amherst Democrat and member of Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership team, told the News Service.

Asked about the looming Nov. 6 deadline for House candidates to establish residency, Story said it was on people’s minds.

“A couple of people will have to move. I know so,” Story said, adding, “The people who will have to move already know it, so I don’t think it will be contentious.”

Both Moran and Senate Redistricting Chairman Stanley Rosenberg have told the News Service individually that they have not made a determination on whether to present all four maps simultaneously, or roll them out on different timelines – lawmakers also have to redraw eight Governor’s Council districts.

Senate candidates only have to live within the district they hope to represent prior to election-day, while Congressional candidates have no district residency requirements to qualify for the ballot.

Moran suggested Story may have spoken out of turn when suggesting some current members would be at risk of having their districts pulled out from underneath them.

“It’s not as big a deal because I don’t believe we are going to put a map out that’s going to require a rep to move, so the deadline for the one year requirement isn’t technically set in stone,” Moran said.

The Redistricting Committee has been plodding through the process since March when the U.S. Census Bureau released population figures confirming that Massachusetts would lose one of its 10 Congressional districts.

The committee held public hearings across the state, and Moran met at least twice with each member of the House of Representatives to discuss individual concerns.

“This has been much more democratic – with a small d – and everyone is grateful for that,” Story said, comparing this process to the one under former Speaker Thomas Finneran that she described as more “secretive.”

In 2001, Finneran released a hotly debated and ultimately defeated Congressional map that gutted former U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan’s 5th district on July 1.

House and Senate maps followed much later, released by the House on Oct. 18 and enacted in that branch Nov. 1.

“It’s certainly not late, but you’re not early. I think Massachusetts is right in the middle of the peloton,” said Tim Story, a senior fellow and redistricting expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Story said 27 states have enacted redistricting plans, including seven states that have only one Congressional district, such as Vermont. Others like Utah are debating plans now, according to Story, and states such as Florida are beginning to see proposed maps released.

Secretary of State William Galvin on July 28 delivered to lawmakers new precinct boundaries, considered the building blocks of districts. Though Galvin declined the News Service’s request for an interview on Tuesday, in July he requested action on maps before the end of October.

"The new precincts went to the Legislature six weeks earlier than they did a decade ago," Galvin said in a statement that month. "I expect the redistricting plans to be finalized within 90 days, in order to prepare for the upcoming elections."

House Minority Brad Jones acknowledged some concern among members - particularly freshmen Republicans -about districts being reshaped, but said he did not think Democrats were intentionally stalling to hurt the GOP by using the residency requirement as a tool to erode significant gains in the House from the last election.

“I suppose if you’re a real conspiracy theorist you could be concerned about that but I also know we had the reprecincting process taken until the end of June and when we got the redistricting software there was a software glitch that cost a little bit of time,” Jones said.

Jones said concerns about a late release of redistricting maps limiting the time available for debate had to be balanced against the process followed by House Democrats that included multiple public hearings and chance for input from lawmakers.

Lawmakers will hear a plea Wednesday not to divide communities and neighborhoods and to give a "fair and equal voice" to African-American, Latino and Asian-American voters. Leaders of MassVOTE, the New England Area Council, the NAACP, the Boston Workers Alliance and Oiste plan to discuss a "unity statement" supported by communities including Lowell, Springfield, Worcester and Boston.

The groups want a minimum of six new majority-minority voting age districts added to the existing ten in the Massachusetts House and one new majority-minority voting age district added to the existing two in the state Senate, as well as at least one majority-minority Congressional district. The group's leaders will discuss their ideas at a press conference planned for 10:30 a.m. outside the State House.

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