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Commonwealth's Counties

Redistricting reform measure passes; problematic local component removed

The General Assembly passed a compromise redistricting reform measure on Saturday that combines elements of HJ 615 (Cole) and SJ 306 (Barker), but does not include language affecting local government redistricting that was initially included in HJ 615.  This language would have required any locality in which members of the governing body are elected from districts to establish a local independent redistricting commission, which would be composed of four representatives from the political parties.  The commission would submit one or more proposed plans to the governing body, which would be required to consider any plan as a proposed ordinance.  VACo opposed the inclusion of local governing bodies in the state redistricting measure, as the language regarding the local commission could have the unintended consequence of limiting existing efforts to provide for community participation in redistricting.   Many localities already create local advisory commissions with membership that extends beyond party representatives.

The compromise proposal passed over the weekend does not include the provisions dealing with local redistricting.  Instead it focuses on the establishment of state Senate, House of Delegates, and Congressional districts.  The resolution requires a 16-member commission to be convened in 2020 and every ten years thereafter, with eight legislators (four Senators and four Delegates, with equal representation between the parties in each chamber) and eight citizen members (to be selected by a committee of retired circuit court judges from lists submitted by majority and minority party leadership in each chamber).  The Commission must submit plans to the legislature (plans must receive majority votes from legislators and citizen members in order to be submitted).  Plans for General Assembly districts will be considered as a single bill, which is not subject to amendment and not subject to gubernatorial amendment or veto.  If the General Assembly does not adopt the plan, the Commission must submit a new proposal; if that option is not adopted, the Supreme Court of Virginia will draw the districts.  The resolution contains several transparency provisions:  commission meetings must be public, the Commission is required to hold at least three public hearings in different parts of the Commonwealth, and all records and documents associated with the Commission’s work are public information.

VACo Contact:  Katie Boyle

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