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House sends bipartisan redistricting bill to Senate

In this file photo, legislative staffers set up Plexiglas dividers on the House floor in preparation for the start of a 60-day session. The dividers are intended as a safety precaution due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — The state House reached agreement early Saturday on bipartisan legislation that would establish an independent redistricting committee to propose new legislative and congressional districts.

The proposal, Senate Bill 304, adopts the elements of several competing redistricting measures circulating in the Roundhouse this session.

It calls for a seven-member committee that would hold hearings throughout New Mexico and propose maps based on new census data.

The proposal would bar the committee from considering party registration data in crafting the proposed boundaries, and the panel couldn’t consider the voting addresses of candidates or incumbents, except to avoid pairing of incumbents, if possible.

Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, unveiled the proposal shortly after midnight Saturday, describing it as a compromise reached by a group of Democratic and Republican legislators, including Rep. Natalie Figueroa, D-Albuquerque.

“It’s a bipartisan effort,” Dow said.

The proposal passed the House on a 64-2 vote, but it must head back to the Senate for approval.

The redistricting committee measure was added to Senate Bill 304, a separate piece of legislation that was otherwise focused on the publication of geographic information system data for voting districts.

The revised measure has the potential to break an impasse over how to proceed with redistricting this year.

A special session is expected to be called late this year — perhaps in December — to consider new legislative and congressional districts.

The proposal would start the process this summer with an independent committee led by a retired judge or justice. No more than three of the seven members could be from the same party.

Lawmakers could amend or change the maps in the special session, but they would start with the committee’s proposals.

An earlier measure had called for lawmakers to pick from a group of proposed maps without amendment, but some lawmakers said the procedure would violate the state Constitution.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, thanked the Democratic and Republican floor leaders for developing Saturday’s legislation, which he called a compromise.

“It’s been a long road coming to this point,” Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said.

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