Thanks to Senate staffer Patrick Murphy, the minutes are now available for the Senate hearing on House Bill 592, the House redistricting bill. Only Redistricting Chair Paul Mirski, R-Enfield, spoke in favor of the bill Tuesday. I spoke against it; I found the tone of Senate President Peter Bragdon's questions to me interesting, almost like he did not entirely favor the methodology used by the House. However, as I noted in my testimony, tradition is that the Senate approves the House plan and vise versa. Rumors abound, however, that Manchester Senator Tom DeBlois is ready to propose an amendment fixing the Hillsborough County problem and restoring the two seats which House Republican leadership "stole" from Manchester. We shall see.
Here are the complete minutes of the Senate hearing.
Who supports the bill: Representative Paul Mirski
Who opposes the bill: Representative Steve Vaillancourt; Caitlin Rollo on behalf of Granite State Progress
Summary of testimony received:
- Senator Prescott opened the hearing at 1:05 p.m.
- Representative Mirski introduced the Legislation on behalf of all of the sponsors and testified that he is the chair of the Redistricting Committee in the House.
- He said that he thought, based on the recently-enacted Constitutional amendment, that this would have been a short process – but it was a long process. He said that the process is entirely formulaic. He said that they did seek the help of legal counsel who carefully examined the Federal Constitutional requirements along with the State Constitutional requirements. He noted again that it was a long and tortured process.
- In the end, he said that the House was unable to apply the newly-adopted Constitutional amendment – 14th – because of case law that has been established over the years which gives no latitude to deviation. They have a 10% maximum deviation – 5% plus or minus.
- He said that their bottom line is that they have to stay within the maximum deviation and that they cannot use aggregate deviation.
- He said that they actually just completed this task about three weeks ago – in fact, they had a last-minute amendment before the bill went to the floor of the House. Essentially, he said that he feels that this will definitely be in court but could have avoided that had they had some latitude.
- He used as an example the Town of Pittsfield which lacks merely 11 people in order to qualify for their own State Representative – but he said that this would not be permitted.
- He noted that the Constitution provides that the House and Senate shall put forth their own plans and he hoped the Senate will accept this.
- Senator Bragdon, in commenting on the maximum 10% deviation, noted that his understanding from what he said is that this sounded like a line that could not be crossed. But he also noted that a vote of over 80% of the people in adopting the Constitutional amendment sounded also like a compelling interest. Representative Mirski responded that he had lobbied to go to 6% deviation, as this would have helped them in Grafton County and Pittsfield, but that federal case law is that they must try to get to zero. He spoke of the number of different House districts previously – 95, then 103 – and that this plan establishes over 200 districts, many of which are small districts. He said that the House is being bold here.
- Senator Bragdon asked if maps are available. Representative Mirski agreed to get them to Committee members.
- Senator Larsen told of the responsibility of seeking communities of interest and about the portion of Concord (Ward 5) that has been tied to Hopkinton. She said that representing the interest of a City is vastly different from representing a town – and noted that a similar combination has been done in Manchester. Representative Mirski responded that in reading the Constitutional amendment, the ward boundaries disappear – and that the underlying case law argues against it. He noted that even the House Democratic leaders proposed a plan that had part of Concord with Hopkinton. He acknowledged that the Manchester floterial is a nightmare that they were unable to avoid, though it still enables the city to have the 34 Representatives that they wanted. He said that this is a “house of cards” and that if you touch anything, you have to redraw that whole county. He acknowledged that the plan is not 100%.
- Representative Mirski said that the numbers drive everything and that there are very few places where one can make political decisions.
- Senator Larsen noted that if the City of Concord had raised the same ruckus that Nashua did, maybe they would have gotten more relief.
- Caitlin Rollo testified in opposition on behalf of Granite State Progress. She said that they are concerned about the lack of transparency that occurred during the House deliberations and the lack of public participation. She said that under this plan, several towns and/or city wards will lose full representation. She reminded Senators that the Constitutional Amendment states that eligible communities should have their own representatives. The population threshold is 3,291. She said that the plan they presented provides for far better representation (the plan is available at www.granitestateprogress.org).
- Senator Bragdon asked if the plan they presented was the one that had weighted voting. Ms. Rollo responded “yes.”
- Representative Vaillancourt testified in opposition. He acknowledged that the common practice is for the Senate to rubber-stamp the House plan and the House to rubber-stamp the Senate’s. However, he said he needs to speak up about the process as two areas are clearly unconstitutional and will be found as such. He spoke of Pelham that deserves to have 4 Representatives of their own but will get zero under this plan because this combines Pelham with Hudson. He said that it makes far more sense to combine Litchfield with Hudson.
- He remarked that there is absolutely no need for this to happen. He said in the City of Concord, 9 out of the 10 wards get their own Representative, but for whatever reason, one ward was singled out, even though it has more population. He said that could have easily been floated with other Concord wards.
- He said that he had put a plan forward. He noted that he does not agree with the proposal for weighted voting as it creates super mega districts, but noted that this plan should be totally reworked now.
- He commented that the plan ten years ago had a deviation of 22% and that twenty years ago, it was over by 10%. He said that they were not allowed to create floterial districts – and that they were handcuffed in several ways. He said that this plan only needs a “little tweaking” in order to fix it.
- Senator Bragdon asked why they were not allowed to use aggregates. Representative Vaillancourt responded that the House hired outside legal counsel who have kept this whole thing secret. He said that they initially used aggregates, but he believes that the lawyers are the reason that it was abandoned.
- Senator Bragdon, commented that with the 10% the proof falls on the challenger, and stated again that when over 80% of the voters adopted the Constitutional amendment, this established a compelling reason. Representative Vaillancourt responded “yes,” but again he blames the lawyers. He said that if you allowed as small a deviation as 5.6%, then Belknap County would be fine.
He said that the options must be weighed and that it would have been much wiser to use them, but the House Committee was not allowed to do so.
- Senator Prescott closed the hearing at 1:43 p.m.
Funding: Not applicable.
Future Action: The Committee took the bill under advisement.