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Senate President Steve Sweeney appears to have the votes for marijuana decriminalization.
Senate President Steve Sweeney

No redistricting reform this year, Sweeney says

Still time for another push before the end of lame duck

By Nikita Biryukov, December 05 2019 1:36 pm

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article said the legislature would have run out of time to pass a constitutional amendment by the Senate’s next session day. That was incorrect. 

Senate President Steve Sweeney said the legislature won’t take up redistricting reform before the end of the year.

“My next quorum is the 12th, and then the voting sessions on the 16th,” Sweeney said. “Twenty days, we’re pretty much out of the clock, you know?”

Constitutional amendments must sit for 20 days before seeing a vote. State law also requires one public hearing in a single chamber of the legislature be held on such measures.

The Senate held a quorum on Thursday to swear in State Sen. Michael Testa, but no constitutional amendments were introduced then.

Had they put a redistricting amendment up then, lawmakers would have needed to come in between Christmas and the start of the New Year. Sweeney said he has no intention of calling legislators back to Trenton in the last week of the year.

Lawmakers could still introduce the measure in time to pass it during the lame duck session if they gets put on legislators’ desks on Dec. 12. and vote on it in early January.

Democrats made an attempt at redistricting reform last December, though that effort died under widespread opposition from Republicans, good-government groups and progressives, including Gov. Phil Murphy.

Last year’s measure would have tied the state’s competitive districts to average results in statewide contests over the past 10 years.

Such a definition would have essentially gerrymandered the state in Democrats’ favor, opponents said.

Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt launched an attack on Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin after the two declined to rule out taking another shot at redistricting reform during the lame duck session Wednesday.

Steinhardt claimed the Democrats were again trying to gerrymander the state in their favor, erroneously claiming that the New Jersey Globe reported Coughlin and Sweeney were pushing the same measure that failed last December.

“I saw that,” Sweeney said. “They overreacted.”

It’s not likely Democrats would put up an identical redistricting measure should they attempt to make reforms once more.

Because they aren’t voting on a constitutional amendment this year, Democrats will need to gin up 60% support for their redistricting amendments in both chambers if they want to get the measure on the ballot before district lines are redrawn in 2021.

Still, Sweeney wouldn’t rule out another try with the same amendment.

“We haven’t talked about it all,” Sweeney said. “There has been zero conversation about it.”

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