Municipal officials oppose legislative redistricting proposal
As the House prepares to move forward with a major change to how redistricting is done, city and town officials are sounding the alarm that the change could have confusing unintended consequences, disrupting elections and municipal operations.
Rep. Michael Moran, a Brighton Democrat who chairs the House’s redistricting committee, proposed legislation that would reverse the order of how districts are drawn. Typically, cities and towns draw their voting precincts first, referred to as reprecincting. Then the Legislature draws the congressional, state Senate, and state House districts, referred to as redistricting. Moran’s bill would flip the order and let the Legislature go first.
The House Ways and Means Committee released a version of Moran’s bill Wednesday, indicating that the House could vote on it as soon as Thursday.
In a letter to lawmakers submitted Wednesday, the Massachusetts City Clerks Association said clerks should retain the authority to redesign their precincts first because clerks “do so without bias to any elected officers or candidates.”
The central question revolves around whether the Legislature must respect the boundaries drawn locally or whether the municipalities must respect the boundaries drawn by state lawmakers. If one did not respect the other’s boundaries, that could result in split precincts where two voters at the same polling place would get different ballots, creating major potential for confusion.
The State House News Service reported, based on testimony at a Monday hearing, that advocates for the change say it would free the Legislature up to draw more precise districts, without worrying about splitting local precincts. Because of delays in when this year’s census numbers are being released, it would let lawmakers finish redistricting in time for state legislators to make sure they are living within the boundaries of their new districts.
But Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin said he would urge Gov. Charlie Baker to veto the bill. According to the Gloucester Daily Times, Galvin argued that the policy would preempt local officials from drawing their own districts because they will be bound by the legislative districts – whether or not those districts accurately reflect changes in the local community. Galvin framed it as a legislative power grab away from municipal officials.
Voting rights groups like Common Cause and the ACLU support the bill, arguing that it would give the Legislature better tools to identify underrepresented minority groups and give minorities a greater voting bloc.
But in addition to the city clerks, the Massachusetts Municipal Association also weighed in Wednesday opposing the bill.
Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, sent a letter to lawmakers saying that city and town officials are in the best positions to identify and consider racial and ethnic communities of interest as they draw precinct lines. Municipalities are also required to solicit public input. “If the state draws districts first, it could unknowingly split neighborhoods and communities of interest who wish to be connected and represented in their local government and municipal elections,” Beckwith wrote.
He noted that state-drawn lines could inadvertently conflict with local governance structures in places that have town meetings or that elect local governing bodies by districts and wards. “Legislative district lines could unknowingly divide communities of interest or create sections that are too large or small to match the required number of precincts or districts, leading to disarray,” Beckwith wrote.
Tax the rich: The Legislature, by a largely partisan vote, gave final approval to a constitutional amendment creating a 4 percent income tax surcharge on people who make more than $1 million a year. Voters will now decide in November 2022 whether to amend the constitution to tax the wealthy at a higher rate.
— Supporters of the amendment say the state needs the estimated $2 billion the amendment will bring in to address funding needs in education and transportation. They also say the measure will help address income inequality in the state, narrowing the gap between the wealthiest and poorest in Massachusetts.
— Opponents are concerned that many of the wealthy people the amendment targets will just pick up and leave the state, taking their wealth and economic activity with them and reducing the state’s overall tax take.
— The constitutional amendment also raises interesting policy issues. James Rooney, the president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, says the constitution is for establishing broad guiding principles, not specific tax rates affecting a specific group of people. What if we learn that the specific tax rate needs to be tweaked sometime in the future — it will take four years to go through the cumbersome constitutional amendment process. Read more.
Traffic concerns: A new poll indicates Boston-area voters believe traffic will return to previous choking congestion levels or actually get worse as the economy continues to reopen and people emerge from COVID hibernation. The poll, conducted by the MassINC Polling Group for the pro-transit Barr Foundation, suggests roughly a third of those surveyed believe they will drive more and use transit less. The poll found strong support for measures making transit more affordable (discounts for low-income riders) or free, although the survey did not ask who should pay for such measures. Read more.
MBTA Board: A replacement for the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board seems to be gaining steam as the House Ways and Means Committee puts forward a spending bill that includes a provision creating a new, seven-member MBTA Board. The House and Gov. Charlie Baker seem to be in sync on MBTA oversight. Will the Senate follow suit? Read more.
Use phone data to do contract tracing: Thomas Kelly says safety should trump privacy concerns in the next pandemic as he calls for the use of smartphone geo-tracking to assist in contact tracing. “Privacy rights can and should be adjusted — temporarily – in a true national health emergency,” he says. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
The state Department of Children and Families is facing a dire shortage of beds to place at-risk children in. (Boston Globe)
A Berkshire Eagle editorial says it’s time for lawmakers to return to the State House and conduct business in-person.
Boston city councilors sent a shot across the bow of Acting Mayor Kim Janey by overwhelmingly passing a rule change that would allow the panel to remove the city council president on a two-thirds vote. Janey serves as acting mayor by virtue of her position as council president. (Boston Herald)
A 19-year-old from Lynn was killed when a robbery suspect trying to elude police drove the wrong way down Route 107 and slammed into her head-on. (Daily Item)
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh faces some hostile questioning at a congressional hearing about his handling of the Boston police commissioner pick as mayor — and Herald columnist Joe Battenfeld says it could be a sign of rough times ahead for Walsh.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with the help of some experts, lays out her argument that Bitcoin is a policy and environmental disaster in the making.
Michael O’Neill, the longest serving member of the Boston School Committee and its one-time chairman, will return to that position temporarily in the wake of this week’s resignation of board chairwoman Alexandra Oliver-Davila, who stepped down, along with member Lorna Rivera, after the emergence of a text exchange between the two women disparaging West Roxbury and white residents there. (Boston Globe)
Barnstable School Superintendent Meg Mayo Brown, who makes $234,731 a year, plans to step down in June 2022. (Cape Cod Times)
An arts nonprofit’s giant murals are only the most visible signs of a general rebirth taking place in Lynn. (Boston Globe)
The Catholic Church in Massachusetts is calling on families to return to in-person Mass on the weekend of June 19-20. (Associated Press)
The Springfield assembly plant of CRRC, the Chinese subway car manufacturer, celebrates the delivery of new vehicles to Los Angeles. The celebration comes as new vehicles made for the MBTA are still being scrutinized for possible flaws. (GBH)
The city of Quincy reached a settlement with the US attorney’s office and the Environmental Protection Agency that will require the city spend $100 million to upgrade its sewer system, which has been dumping thousands of gallons of untreated waste into Boston Harbor. (Boston Globe)
Attorney General Maura Healey writes rules to conform with a 2016 ballot question, set to go into effect next year, that bans the sale of meat and eggs from tightly caged animals. (Gloucester Daily Times)
State prosecutors again halt the use of alcohol breath test results as evidence, after renewed questions are raised about the tests’ use and accuracy. (Telegram & Gazette)
Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington stands by her attempt to oust District Court Judge Jennifer Tyne, but local attorneys decry the effort. (Berkshire Eagle)
Longtime Boston Herald reporter and editor Joe Dwinell has been named the paper’s executive editor. (Boston Herald)PASSINGS
Thousands of mourners and police officers flock to Worcester to pay their respects to Police Officer Manny Familia, who died while attempting to rescue a drowning teenager. Familia’s funeral will be Thursday. (MassLive)