Redistricting Reform in Virginia?

Former Virginia Democratic nominee for Governor, State Senator Creigh Deeds, has been very actively promoting a bill in the Virginia Senate that would reform the process for redistricting in Virginia.  The official summary of his bill (SB 173) reads:

Establishes a seven-member temporary commission to prepare redistricting plans in 2011 and each tenth year thereafter for the House of Delegates, state Senate, and congressional districts. Appointments to the Commission shall be made one each by the four majority and minority party leaders of the House and Senate and by the state chairmen of the two major political parties. Those six appointees shall appoint the seventh member and chairman for the Commission. If they cannot agree, they shall submit the names of the two persons receiving the most votes to the Supreme Court for the Court to select the chairman. The Commission will prepare plans and submit them as bills to the General Assembly. The General Assembly shall then proceed to act on the bills in the usual manner. The bill provides for Commission comments on plans as they change in the legislative process. It also spells out the standards and process to be followed by the Commission in preparing plans, including limitations on the use of political data and opportunities for public comment on the plans.

Deeds’ bill passed out of the Senate’s Privileges and Elections Committee February 9th on a 15-0 vote.  The bill then went to the floor where it passed by a unanimous 40-0 on February 15th. While Deeds’ bill passed the Virginia Senate with complete support, it was referred to the Committee on Privileges and Elections in the House of Delegates and was tabled by a subcommittee, which means the bill is currently stalled.  An earlier redistricting reform bill in the House of Delegates was defeated in Committee.  Governor Bob McDonnell has endorsed redistricting reform officially.  However, as we reported in November after McDonnell’s election, under the current system of partisan redistricting, Republicans are in a very strong position to redraw Congressional lines as they want and may not have a very strong incentive to support redistricting reform.  Deeds has said, “I’ve got no illusions (about passing redistricting reform being easy).  (But) this is the right thing to do.”  While his bill is progress in getting redistricting reform passed in Virginia, and it is only a bipartisan — not an independent — commission that leaves the final control of district lines in the legislature, Deeds is correct that passing even such limited reform will not be easy.

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