Va. could switch to bipartisan redistricting commission

The Capitol building is bathed in sunlight in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Helber(ASSOCIATED PRESS/Steve Helber)
RICHMOND, Va. — Significant changes to Virginia’s redistricting process that could reduce the amount of gerrymandering in the state were approved Saturday by the General Assembly.

The agreement, which would have to pass again next year and then be approved by voters in November 2020 to take effect as a state constitutional amendment, would create a 16-member redistricting commission every 10 years starting with the 2021 cycle.

While some advocates had called for a completely independent commission, the group would instead be evenly split between Democrats and Republicans in an effort to create fairer maps. The commission would also be evenly split between members of the General Assembly and members of the public nominated by each party.

The commission would include two state senators from each party, two delegates from each party, and eight citizens nominated by party leaders in each chamber but selected by a panel of retired judges.

Some House members spoke against the bill over concerns minority groups may not be represented.

Del. Joe Lindsey, a Democrat who represents Norfolk and Virginia Beach, called it “piss poor,” and only an improvement over the current system because the current system is terrible.

Other members spoke in favor of the deal as something that is not perfect, but is practical and an improvement over the governor and legislators drawing the lines on their own.

Advocates believe additional rules to prevent partisan lines could be added later through regular legislation.

The House adopted the agreement 83-15, the Senate adopted it unanimously 40-0.

Under the deal, the redistricting commission maps would need approval of six of the eight lawmakers and six of the eight citizen members in order to be sent to the General Assembly.

The General Assembly would then hold an up-or-down vote on the plans for Congressional, state Senate and House of Delegates districts.

If a map is rejected, the commission would propose another.

If the General Assembly rejects that map, the Supreme Court of Virginia would draw the legislative lines.

While developing the maps, the commission would be required to hold at least three public hearings and accept public comment.

Virginia lines drawn in 2011 for U.S. House and house of delegates districts were ruled unconstitutionally drawn based on race. A court just ordered new house of delegates lines be used for this fall’s General Assembly elections.

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