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With Census Data Released, Redistricting Begins In Earnest On Beacon Hill

A photograph of the exterior of the Massachusetts State House taken on September 21, 2013.
Noah B Kaplan
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/noahkaplan
A photograph of the exterior of the Massachusetts State House taken on September 21, 2013.

Every 10 years, state lawmakers get a whole lot of data from the census bureau and use it to make big decisions about the power of individual communities. That time is now.

The U.S. Census released files last week that will allow states to get started in redrawing district boundaries for congressional and state legislative seats.

The four western counties in Massachusetts saw the lowest percentage population growth in the state. Two counties, Franklin and Berkshire, actually lost population.

Matt Murphy from State House News Service joins us to talk more about the redistricting effort that will take place on Beacon Hill.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: I mean, it certainly has its challenges. Not only are the population shifts different across the state, as you mentioned, places in western Mass., some of the cities in particular, the larger cities gaining population like Springfield, but other places--Holyoke, North Adams, Westfield, losing population. So, this will make it interesting on the local legislative level, how those city districts shift for seats in the State House.

And then in the bigger picture, you have what's going on at the congressional level. These federal seats -- the House districts represented by Congressman Neal and Congressman McGovern -- are going to have to pick up population. And, because the way Massachusetts is too geographically bordered by New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Connecticut on all sides, those districts are going to have to shift east, and that will force a lot of changes in the eastern part of the state as well. So, a challenge compounded by the fact that the data ... was released last week, late from the U.S. Census Bureau than traditionally given to states to start this 10 year process. So they're going to be under the gun time-wise to get this done by the late fall.

Adam Frenier, NEPM: Last week, with the COVID-19 test positivity rate rising in Massachusetts counties, communities started reimposing mask mandates like in Northampton and Amherst. Governor Baker continues to refuse to make a statewide rule. Is it just a matter of time before that happens, or is he going to stick with his plan to let communities handle this at the local level?

So far, he has preferred to let this be handled locally, but as you noted, the transmission of the new Delta variant has fueled an increase in cases. All of Massachusetts, not just some of the counties, now falls under the CDC's guidelines recommending mask wearing indoors for people regardless of vaccination status.

The push now seems to be to get Governor Baker to reconsider his position on masking, at least in schools. Here on Beacon Hill, a lot of lawmakers [are] pushing for a massive mandate as kids, teachers, are preparing to return to the classroom in the fall. And that's likely, I think, where we're going to see a lot of the political pressure begin to grow on the governor to reconsider his position to create a more uniform standard across Massachusetts for these educational institutions.

And finally, Matt, Massachusetts held a two day sales tax holiday this past weekend. It's a far cry from the two months Governor Baker has been pushing for, but the retailers' association is hoping it happens later this year. What are the chances of that?

You know, the governor and legislative leaders in the House and Senate, Speaker Mariano, Senate President Spilka, did not see eye to eye on the governor's position that taxpayers helped contribute to a large surplus at the end of the year because of their spending throughout the pandemic, and that they deserve to get some of that money back.

Legislative Democrats said that the two-day sales tax holiday, which just happened over this past weekend, was sufficient, that the economy did not need another boost, as the governor had pitched, from a sales tax holiday. And, they were reluctant to embrace this idea and there's little to suggest that they're going to change that, given the size of the surplus. But we're going to continue to see businesses push for more tax relief for these shoppers to help some of the sectors that have not quite yet recovered from the year-long pandemic shutdown.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.