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As bills switch chambers, a close vote for redistricting reform in Virginia

February 12th, 2020, 11:06am by Aaron Barden

On Tuesday, both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly were hectically busy as they raced to pass legislation before the “crossover” deadline, by which bills must switch from one chamber to the other. Only a few redistricting form bills are left standing after crossover, but two paths remain: the constitutional amendment (HJ71/SJ18) and its enabling legislation (HB758/SB203), and the alternate statutory commission bill (HB1256) with an accompanying fairness-criteria bill (HB1255/SB717). Both of these paths contain fairness criteria, including doing away with prison gerrymandering. These paths remain open as the bills move from one chamber to the next.

In the chart below, bills that have died are struck through; the others are now moving to their opposite chamber with House bills going to the Senate and vice versa. (Note: the House version of the constitutional amendment, HJ71, has until next week to pass through the House process.)

A few things that the above table doesn’t show. The enabling legislation (HB758/SB203) now requires recusal of any Supreme Court justice who is related to a member of the General Assembly and disallows family members of legislators from serving on the retired-judge Selection Committee. A slight difference between the enabling legislation is that HB758 now states that the Supreme Court “shall follow” the judicial guidelines prescribed in the bill, rather than “give consideration to” them.

Even though HB1256 is largely similar to the enabling legislation, it has some minor differences too. These include a higher number of hearings, requirements for recording and archiving Commission meetings, and stronger language about diversity.

Tuesday’s votes went late into the evening in the Senate. Unfortunately, the Senate floor’s livestream cut out right as they began to discuss the enabling legislation (SB203). From what I can tell (via the bill tracking website), a floor amendment had been presented by Senator Jill Vogel that would have removed the fairness criteria, including the language to end prison gerrymandering. But that amendment did not go through, leaving last week’s version of SB203 unscathed.

Following this vote, the enabling legislation passed 20-20 with the tiebreaker vote in favor of passage cast by Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. What makes this close Senate vote odd is that the near-identical House version of the enabling legislation (HB758) passed through the House on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 83-14.

After midnight on Tuesday, the Senate passed the constitutional amendment by a near unanimous 38-2. This means every reform bill (except for HJ71) will now begin the legislative process again in the opposite chamber. Exciting times continue on in the Old Dominion!

Tags: Redistricting

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