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Redistricting bill heads to House

In this file photo, Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, walks through the empty halls of the Roundhouse. Lawmakers are entering the final days of a session held amid strict health protocols. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s next round of redistricting would start with an independent committee under bipartisan legislation that won Senate approval Tuesday and now heads to the House.

The proposal, Senate Bill 15, calls for the creation of a seven-member panel to propose maps for legislative and congressional districts later this year. The new boundaries would reflect the latest census data.

The committee would be appointed with independence in mind: No more than three members could be from the same political party, and it would be led by a retired Supreme Court justice or Appeals Court judge.

The legislation, however, doesn’t go as far as supporters had hoped. It would still allow legislators to amend the maps or propose their own before final approval, likely in a special session late this year.

Sens. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, and Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said they supported the bill as a compromise because it might not be legal to require lawmakers to simply choose a map without amendment.

They expressed interest in proposing a constitutional amendment to address the issue in a future legislative session before the next census.

“This definitely helps,” Moores said of Tuesday’s bill, “but many of us want reform in this field. Maybe in 10 years we can get that done permanently.”

Ortiz y Pino said lawmakers are “ultimately going to have to do this as a constitutional amendment” to ensure independently drawn districts.

“This is the next-best approach,” he said.

The Senate voted 39-0 in favor of the measure, sending it to the House with 11 days left in the session.

The proposal is jointly sponsored by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, and House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

Members of the New Mexico First Redistricting Task Force – a group that met last year to develop recommendations – are pushing for amendments to the proposal that would require the Legislature to provide written evaluations of how well the maps comply with redistricting criteria, among other changes.

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