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Virginia is for reform lovers: the committees (mostly) wrap up

February 7th, 2020, 7:45pm by Aaron Barden

This morning, the full House Privileges & Elections Committee voted to send three redistricting bills to the House floor, leaving open the two paths to reform we mentioned yesterday. These bills, as well as their Senate counterparts, will be voted on in their respective chambers next week. That means the committee process for reform is done, aside from the House’s consideration of the constitutional amendment. What a week for reform!

A quick breakdown of the votes:

  • Only the enabling legislation, HB758, passed through the House Committee today – overwhelmingly, by a vote of 20-1. This legislation adds fairness criteria and enhances the constitutional amendment, which Republicans support.
  • HB1255, a standalone bill with the same criteria as HB758, passed with a narrower vote of 14-8, with only one Republican vote in favor. This could mean that Republicans don’t favor the criteria in the enabling legislation if a commission is in charge. Or maybe they oppose anything that undermines the constitutional-amendment route.
  • As in the Subcommittee, Delegate Price (D)’s alternate advisory-commission bill, HB1256, passed on a party-line vote. Price’s commission process would not be binding on the General Assembly, which could still draw its own lines without input from the commission.

The actions in today’s Committee hearing leave open two avenues for redistricting reform:

1) The constitutional amendment (HJ71/SJ18) and accompanying enabling legislation (HB758/SB203). This route seems to has the most bipartisan support and would bind the General Assembly in 2021 and beyond.

2) Delegate Price’s alternate, statutory commission (HB1256). Although the commission lacks final say over maps, it does include more transparency provisions, such as a higher minimum number of public hearings and a requirement to record, transcribe, and archive Commission meetings. (These could still be added to the enabling legislation through a floor amendment next week.)

The statutory route has almost entirely Democratic support and seems intended to act as a stopgap until a new redistricting constitutional amendment process is started sometime in the future…ten years from now.

These bills could be improved by having an even higher amount of data transparency. Right now, both the enabling legislation and Price’s alternate commission require that the Commission publish all redistricting data to its website and that draft maps be published on the Commission’s website “prior to voting.” For improved transparency, this could be changed to require more regular publication of draft maps – even daily! And the publication of election data for citizens’ use could happen in advance of the Commission’s work, as in New Jersey’s new law: the Voting Precinct Transparency Act. If either proposed route to reform were to include these suggestions through a floor amendment, Virginia would be a leader in redistricting transparency.

These bills will be voted on by the full House next week. The constitutional amendment (HJ71) will be voted on later this month because it is subject to a later legislative deadline in the House than other bills.

It’s been fun being back in my home state this week to watch reform move forward in the Commonwealth!

Tags: Redistricting

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