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Revised bill for independent redistricting advances

In this Feb. 25 photo, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, presents a bill on the Senate floor. He is co-sponsoring a proposal to guide how the Legislature will draw new districts with 2020 census data. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A compromise proposal to establish an independent redistricting panel began moving through the state Senate on Monday, clearing the first of two committees necessary before it can reach the floor.

The amended legislation, Senate Bill 15, was crafted largely by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat and chairman of the Senate Rules Committee.

And it picked up support from House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

Ivey-Soto said the revised legislation was necessary to meet constitutional requirements and address other problems with a competing version, Senate Bill 199.

The other bill, for example, called for legislators to pick a redistricting map without making any changes – a process that would run afoul of legislative powers established in the state Constitution, Ivey-Soto said.

The new version of Senate Bill 15, however, incorporates much of what was in the other proposal, including the creation of a seven-member independent panel to propose maps. No more than three members of the group could be from the same political party, and it would be led by a retired judge or justice.

The new proposal makes no mention of whether the independent redistricting panel could consider where incumbents live as they propose maps. The initial independent redistricting proposal, Senate Bill 199, expressly prohibited favoring incumbents.

Nonetheless, the bipartisan sponsors of the initial legislation – Democratic Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino and Republican Sen. Mark Moores, both of Albuquerque – supported Ivey-Soto’s changes, and his version is the one moving forward.

“I think it retains the core of what we’re trying to do while dealing with potential constitutional challenges,” Ortiz y Pino said.

The amended Senate Bill 15 cleared the Senate Rules Committee on a 10-0 vote and now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Debate over how to proceed with redistricting intensified last month when Speaker Egolf slammed the bill proposing an independent commission, arguing it could undermine the pursuit of progressive priorities.

But he supports the new version and intends to sign on as a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 15, a spokesman said.

The measure unveiled Monday also picked up bipartisan support.

Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, said it was important to “keep the conversation going” on how to establish fair-minded legislative and congressional districts.

“Gerrymandering is the root of our political dysfunction,” O’Neill said. “It breeds extremity. It breeds polarization.”

Lawmakers are expected to meet in special session late this year to reapportion districts based on new census data.

The version of Senate Bill 15 moving forward in the Senate would establish a Citizen Redistricting Committee to propose three sets of maps for each of the state House, state Senate and the congressional delegation by Oct. 30. It would hold a series of public meetings before adopting the maps.

Lawmakers could select one of the three maps proposed by the committee, or they could amend the recommendations as they do with any other legislation.

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