Joint Election Laws Chairman, State Rep. Dan Ryan, representing Charlestown and Chelsea, was busy on the House floor the first full week of June.
On Thursday, June 10, in an effort to meet a statutory deadline, Ryan brought a bill to address redistricting and re-precincting through the committee process and to the House floor. Every 10 years, on June 15, cities and towns in the Commonwealth are required to submit new precinct lines using the latest U.S. Census Data. Traditionally, State Legislative and Congressional district boundaries are then set according to those precinct maps. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census data needed for this process will not be available until late September. The House bill proposed by Ryan reverses the order of municipal re-precincting and legislative redistricting so as not to miss a Constitutional deadline for residency in new districts. Chair Ryan explained in a speech from the House floor the intricacies of this bill as succinctly as possible.
“The Official 2020 Census data will not be released until September 30, 2021. This delay necessitates a change to how the Commonwealth governs re-precincting and how precincts are used as building blocks for redistricting. In short, the bill simply has re-precincting done after the creation of new legislative districts. These changes are necessary due to COVID-19 related delays in acquiring the proper data from the Census Bureau.”
Ryan further added, “This is a measured response to COVID-19 delays. This action allows the drawing of new districts in a timely manner while still allowing municipalities to draw their precinct and sub-precinct boundaries to meet their needs”.
The bill, H. 3863 is an amended version of H. 820 put forward by Co-Chair of The Special Joint Committee on Redistricting, Representative Mike Moran (D-Brighton), after issues brought to his attention during the 2010 process. On Monday morning, June 7, the Joint Committee on Election Laws held a hearing, chaired by Ryan, on the original language of H. 820. To which many advocacy groups and citizens voiced support. The amended bill H. 3863 addresses the COVID-related delays with further language sunsetting the provisions in January 2021; thus, applying the new schedule to only this decade’s redistricting process. H. 3863 was Ryan’s first foray as Chairman to move a major bill from committee to the floor.
“Due to the urgency and timelines involved, this process has been a baptism by fire”, said Ryan when reached after the floor votes. “Most bills work their way through the process over the full two years of a session. Due to pandemic-related delays our committee has been working at warp speed to assure that voting rights are intact while other election-related timelines are meeting constitutional and statutory muster.”
H. 3863 will now head over to the Senate along with other election-related matters that have been put forward.
•An additional item introduced by Ryan last week was an amendment to the Supplemental Budget that would make permanent certain ballot access and voter protection measures implemented during COVID, such as mail-in ballots and early voting. Ryan also addressed the House membership on this amendment. He relayed that many of these long sought-after ballot access measures were tried as emergency solutions to COVID obstacles and were met with widespread acceptance. The House and Senate have varying versions of how to extend these measures through this year’s municipal elections and possibly well into the future.
“We will continue to work with our colleagues in the Senate as well as the Governor and Secretary of State to address these voting rights measures and ballot access improvements for our immediate needs while also moving the needle toward permanent reforms,” added Ryan. “I want to thank Speaker Mariano for entrusting me with this awesome task, also the Election Laws Committee Members and Senate Co-Chair Finegold for their immediate attention to these bills and a special thanks to Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michelwitz for helping to navigate this process.”
Both measures passed overwhelmingly with H. 3863 garnering 139 yeas to 29 nays; Amendment #28 to the Supplemental Budget garnered 128 yeas to 32 nays.