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Two paths, one bipartisan, emerge for redistricting reform in Virginia

February 7th, 2020, 12:05am by Aaron Barden


Redistricting reform proposals in Virginia are starting to get sorted out. A number of bills have died. What’s left is a choice between two paths: (A) a constitutional amendment with an accompanying bill, which together create an independent commission with constraints to ensure fairness; or (B) pass a regular law to create an advisory commission, leaving final approval of redistricting plans with the General Assembly.

In our Citizens’ Guide to Redistricting Reform in Virginia, we explain how path A can be an effective reform. In our evaluation, path B lacks a central feature of strong reform: shifting final authority away from the General Assembly.

Anyway, here’s what happened today.

The constitutional route continues to advance. This afternoon, the constitutional amendment (SJ18) and accompanying enabling legislation (SB203) cleared the last hurdle, the Finance Committee, before going to the full Senate for a floor vote. Both votes were bipartisan, 15-1. It’s an exciting moment for reform in the Commonwealth!

Meanwhile, in the House of Delegates, two bills came out of the Redistricting Subcommittee; both contain fairness criteria to limit extreme plans. One is the House’s version of enabling legislation, HB758 (VanValkenburg), and is nearly identical to SB203. The other contains fairness criteria but does not require the amendment; it’s HB1255 (Price) and is the same as SB717. These steps are similar to what the Senate Privileges & Election Committee did on Tuesday. Both bills passed unanimously except for an abstention by Delegate Price on HB758, the enabling legislation.  Next stop, the full House Privileges & Elections Committee.

The House still has to vote on the constitutional amendment itself (their version is called House Joint Resolution 71). Their Constitutional Amendments Subcommittee still has some time to pass a second reading of a constitutional amendment, so they can relax for a few days.

Now, why did Delegate Price abstain on HB758? Well, that leads us to…

An alternate advisory-commission route emerges. The House Subcommittee also reported out an alternate route to reform, an advisory commission (HB1256, Price). This bill passed with a party-line vote (5-3). Maybe Delegate Price is holding out for her own bill, and therefore abstained on the enabling legislation?

As amended, HB1256 takes one part of the constitutional route: a commission structure with many of the same fairness criteria. But the commission would be advisory only, and it leaves final authority with the General Assembly. As a regular law, it could be repealed by a later General Assembly. So it’s not a permanent solution.

In some ways, HB1256 is tougher than the constitutional enabling legislation: it protects diversity more strongly, and it requires that commission meetings be recorded and transcribed with archives available on a website. It also requires at least seven public hearings, compared with the enabling legislation’s three hearings.

All the other House bills basically died in subcommittee, or their sponsors agreed to sign on as co-patrons of H1255 or HB758.

Stay tuned!

Tags: Redistricting

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