After intense debate on the House floor, SJ 18 (Barker), the Constitutional amendment establishing a bipartisan commission to draw district lines, passed by a vote of 54-46 in the waning days of the session. The amendment had already passed the Senate in mid-February by a large margin. House members also considered, but ultimately rejected, a floor substitute that would have taken a different approach, in an effort to alleviate some members’ concerns about the involvement of legislators in the Commission and the potential role of the Supreme Court in drawing district lines. Since this was the General Assembly’s second time considering the amendment in identical form (with an intervening election), the amendment will be before the voters at the November general election.
Key elements of the amendment
- Establishes a 16-member Virginia Redistricting Commission, which would consist of eight legislators and eight citizen members.
- Requires the Commission to submit plans for General Assembly districts no later than 45 days after the receipt of Census data, and to submit plans for Congressional districts either 60 days following the receipt of Census data or by the first day of July, whichever is later. Plans must be supported by six of the eight legislators and six of the eight citizen members in order to be considered.
- The General Assembly would consider plans for the House of Delegates and Senate in a single bill, without amendments. If the General Assembly fails to approve the bill within 15 days of receipt, the Commission must submit a new plan within 14 days, which the General Assembly must vote on within seven days of receipt. If the General Assembly still fails to approve the plan, the Supreme Court of Virginia will draw the districts. Similarly, if the Commission fails to submit a plan before its deadline, it has 14 days to submit a plan; if it fails to do so, the Supreme Court would draw the districts.
- Commission meetings must be open to the public and the Commission must hold three public hearings in different parts of the state prior to proposing any redistricting plans, and all records will be considered public information.
Accompanying legislation that would have provided additional detail and parameters around the provisions of the Constitutional amendment failed to emerge from conference on the last day of the session. These bills would have specified criteria for selection of members of the committee of retired circuit court judges who would select commissioners, as well as for selection of commissioners themselves. The bills would also have set out a process for the Supreme Court to follow in establishing districts.
Legislation establishing criteria for the drawing of districts was successful, and, if signed by the Governor, would take effect July 1, 2020. HB 1255 (Price)/SB 717 (McClellan) require the following criteria in drawing congressional and state legislative districts:
- Districts must provide for representation in proportion to population, with a deviation of up to 5 percent allowed for state legislative districts.
- Districts must comply with the Constitution and relevant laws and judicial decisions regarding racial and ethnic fairness; the bills state explicitly that no district may be drawn to deny or abridge voting rights on account or race, color, or membership in a language minority group, and that districts must allow racial and language minorities an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.
- Districts shall be drawn to preserve communities of interest, meaning neighborhoods or other geographically defined group of people with similar interests, and districts must be contiguous and compact.
- When considered on a statewide basis, districts must not unduly favor or disfavor any political party.
- Individuals who are incarcerated in a federal, state, or local correctional facility are to be counted for redistricting purposes in the localities in which they resided prior to their incarceration, if they resided in Virginia (if an individual resided outside the state or his/her address cannot be determined, the individual will be counted at the correctional facility).
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle