The Legislature yesterday enacted and sent to the governor compromise legislation to make a one-time change in the decennial redistricting process by letting state lawmakers draw legislative districts first and then giving municipalities 30 days to draw their own voting precinct lines.

The House and Senate passed a bill released by a conference committee on Monday that reconciled differing versions of “reprecincting” legislation.

Normally, cities and towns use data from the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years to update their precinct lines, which are then used by state leaders to redraw federal and state legislative districts. Because of the federal government’s pandemic-related delay in generating official Census numbers, cities and towns have been unable to finalize their reprecincting process.

Facing a November deadline to pass redistricting legislation affecting federal and state legislative districts, lawmakers are seeking to reverse the conventional order and have the state enact redistricting legislation before new municipal precinct maps are finalized.

The House version of the bill would have required municipal precincts to be redrawn to follow the contours of new state legislative districts, which could have created significant disruption in cities and towns with district-based councils or school committees, and in towns with representative town meetings.

The compromise bill (H. 4118) is closely aligned with the Senate version, which would delay the municipal reprecincting process until after the Legislature concludes redistricting of state and federal legislative districts, but would not require precincts to follow legislative lines. Under the compromise bill, the Legislature would finalize the state and federal districts first, and then cities and towns would have 30 days to complete their reprecincting process, as long as they finish by Dec. 15, 2021.

Throughout the legislative process, the MMA has been making the case that legislation to shift the reprecincting process to after redistricting could add significant confusion and complexity to the electoral process in areas where legislative districts bisect precincts. This is particularly important in cities and towns that use precincts to elect city and town councillors, school committees, town meeting members, or other officials.

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