House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell ended a partisan firestorm over a controversial Senate redistricting plan today, making a procedural ruling that killed the Republican-engineered plan without a vote.
Howell, R-Stafford County, ruled that the Senate plan — attached as an amendment to a House bill — was not germane to the original legislation. The original bill, which the House passed last year, made minor changes to the boundaries of House districts. The Senate amendment, Howell said today, “strayed dramatically from the legislation’s original purpose.”
On Jan. 21, Senate Republicans exploited the absence of a single Democratic senator and brought the bill to the floor with a Senate redistricting plan attached to it.The plan, which would have created a more favorable map for Republicans, passed on a party line vote of 20-19. The GOP maneuver took Democrats by surprise and reopened partisan wounds inflicted last year, when Republicans used Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s tie-breaking vote to seize working control of the evenly divided Senate.
In Western Virginia, the plan would have overhauled Senate districts in the Roanoke and New River valleys and forced veteran senators Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, and Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County, into the same district. The plans also would have created a new black majority Senate district anchored in Southside Virginia.
The General Assembly draws new legislative district boundaries once a decade to account for population shifts reflected in the U.S. census. The process typically involves public hearings and committee deliberations.
It is not unusual for lawmakers to make minor changes to district lines — such as eliminating split precincts — between decennial redistricting sessions. But Senate Republicans forced through redrawn districts Monday with no advance notice and no public hearings.