I caught up with Senator Michael Nozzolio yesterday, after I hadpublished my piece on LATFOR’s progress with prisoner reallocation. Nozzolio is, of course, the co-chair of the committee, and the Senate Republican Majority’s representative. In the piece I wrote about the Democratically-controlled Assembly’s work to follow the current law that would count predominately upstate prisoners back in the predominately downstate communities for the purposes of redistricting.
Senator Nozzolio sent a letter to LATFOR at the end of last month instructing it to “immediately begin geocoding” the prisoner data. This, understandable, struck some on the Assembly side as odd, considering they’d already done the work and submitted it to LATFOR. Nozzolio made no mention of their work in his letter. He did, however, acknowledge receiving it when asked yesterday, saying the Assembly work deserved “great praise.”
“They did a terrific job,” Nozzolio said before making a clarifying statement: “They [the LATFOR staff] had a responsibility to just not accept [what the Assembly submitted] at total face value without scrutinizing the information.”
Currently, the senator said, LATFOR’s staff of cartographers and “census professionals” are analyzing what the Assembly staff did to see if it passes muster. So far, Nozzolio said, things were looking good.
“The review is not yet finalized,” he said. “But we’ve got a lot of positive progress to report. The cartographers and the census professionals within LATFOR have analyzed the data and that there are many areas where they are prepared to make recommendations for agreement. We hope that will come very shortly.”
How shortly? A key member of the Senate staff was unable to make the last LATFOR meeting, postponing discussion about prisoner reallocation methods. Nozzolio said he hoped the discussion could happen at the next meeting, on October 27, and the issue could be finalized shortly thereafter.
“We hope to have conclusion no later than the last meeting on the second [of November],” Nozzolio said.
The whole process exists in the shadow of a lawsuit by the Federal government to move New York State’s primary date from September to as early as June. Even if the primary date was moved up to August, the loss of a month means LATFOR’s work needs to be finished ASAP.
The committee needs to finish maps, hold another round of public hearings, get the maps approved by the legislature, avoid a promised veto by Governor Cuomo, and get the new lines approved by the Department of Justice before candidates start circulating petitions for upwards of to get on the ballot for offices that don’t yet have defined boundaries. The whole process, then, might need to be finished by March at the latest.
“The real timeframe for the entire process will be determined by the establishment of the primary date,” said Nozzolio.
Given the compressed timetable, some of Senator Nozzolio’s Democratic colleagues are concerned Senate Republicans are dragging their feet on the prisoner reallocation issue. The Assembly author of the original prisoner allocation, Brooklyn Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, for one stated: “I hope that Senator Nozzolio can be taken at his word that he does intend to comply in good faith with the requirements under law, as they exist right now.”
But that didn’t stop Jeffries from expressing his doubt. “The current Senate majority is deliberately stonewalling the implementation of this law in an attempt to run out the clock,” he said.
If the primary date gets moved up even more drastically, the fear is the Senate Republicans will use their lack of progress on prisoner reallocation as an excuse for needing to circumvent the law because of new time constraints. Such a move, Jeffries said, would potentially be subject to a lawsuit.
“It’s an option that should be on the table to the extent that this continues,” he said.
As mentioned, LATFOR has two remaining meetings. The first will be on October 27 at the SUNY campus in Old Westbury on Long Island. The last will be on November 2 on the SUNY campus in Plattsburgh. Draft maps for new state Assembly and Senate lines, as well as Congressional districts, are expected soon after the last meeting.