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Va. Senate Advances Bipartisan Redistricting Commission Plan

February 6, 2020 by Dan McCue
The Virginia State Capitol in Richmond in a 2003 file image. Democrats won decisive majorities in the House of Delegates and state Senate in voting on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, setting the state on a new course. (Renee Enna/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

A Virginia senate panel has endorsed a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would create a bipartisan commission to draw the Commonwealth’s political map following the 2020 census.

The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted 13-1 to approve the constitutional amendment, which will now go to the Finance and Appropriations Committee for review.

But despite the strong bipartisan committee vote the new commission, at least as currently envisioned, faces tough sledding in the Virginia House of Delegates.

The proposal to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission was approved last year when Republicans controlled the state legislature.

Under the plan currently in the state Senate, eight members of the commission would be legislators — two each from the minority and majority parties of both House and Senate.

The remaining eight members would be citizens chosen by the General Assembly from a group selected by a panel of judges.

After Democrats took over the government following last November’s election, they said they also wanted to create a nonpartisan commission, but didn’t like some of the particulars of the Republican plan.

In the case of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, for instance, there is concern that the Republican plan doesn’t go far enough to ensure minority representation on the panel.

This concern, and others, potentially means starting the process of creating the commission all over again.

That’s because in Virginia, proposed constitutional amendments have to pass in identical form for two consecutive years before they are placed on the ballot for voter approval.

Without a new system in place before the 2020 census is completed, the commonwealth would simply do things the way it has in the past, with Virginia’s 11 congressional and 140 state legislative districts being drawn by the legislature and approved by the governor.

But that system has been fraught with challenges of its own. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice ordered Virginia to redraw legislative maps drafted in 2011 after lower courts ruled the legislature had packed too many African-American voters into certain districts.

The current bill must clear the finance committee by Monday in order for it to be voted on by the full senate by next Tuesday’s deadline for all legislation pending in that body to cross over to the house.

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