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Virginia Politics
Posted at 03:26 PM ET, 04/18/2011

General Assembly postpones redistricting debate

All 140 members of the Virginia General Assembly were expected to return to the state Capitol on Monday to resume work on drawing new state legislative boundaries for the next decade.

But legislators, it seemed, had other plans. Spring break.

Lawmakers, who had long expected to be off this week, balked about returning to Richmond — even after Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) vetoed their bill Friday and House Speaker William J. Howell (R) and Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D) summoned them back.

One by one, legislators were called this weekend only to say they were off with their children or had plans to be out of state on vacation.

Leaders said they would have had the necessary number to vote on a bill this week, but they did not want to debate such an important piece of legislation with so few members.

Instead, the Republican-controlled House of Delegates and Democratic-led Senate will return Monday as they had originally planned.

McDonnell (R) vetoed the bill Friday, accusing the General Assembly of sending him maps that may violate state and federal law and splitting too many counties, cities and towns.

The bill had been part of a deal hatched between the majority parties as a way that protects incumbents and, at least in the Democratic-led Senate, did not receive any bipartisan support.

The House had approved the plan in an 86 to 8 vote, with most Democrats, including members of the Legislative Black Caucus, approving the bill. The Senate adopted the bill on a straight party-line vote of 22 to 18.

The plan called for Northern Virginia to gain a senator and three delegates, all in the region’s growing outer suburbs, to accommodate population shifts revealed by the 2010 census.

The legislature does not have enough votes to override the governor’s veto.

A House committee met Monday and agreed to make a handful of small changes to a newly introduced legislative redistricting bill that outlines new House districts by unsplitting nine precincts in Norfolk and the Richmond area. It passed the committee 16 to 0, with one Republican and five Democrats missing.

“I look forward to the governor and senators resolving their difference that led to last week’s veto so we all can come together and complete this important redistricting exercise as soon as possible,’’ Howell said.

The full House will debate the bill and vote on it next week. The Senate will then tack on its districts when it returns Monday.

Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said Monday that he plans to pass a similar plan, though they may unsplit some localities — changes made at the request of Republicans. “It won’t be a lot different,’’ he said. Republicans say Democrats did not make changes on their behalf.

“In his veto message, Governor McDonnell encouraged ‘the House to pursue opportunities that will strengthen its plan,’ ” Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Stephen D. Newman (R-Lynchburg) said. “Today, the House Privileges and Elections Committee set the House on a course to do just that.  Now, Senate Democrats need to do the same, and begin working in a bipartisan manner to craft a redistricting plan that satisfy the governor’s legally and constitutionally valid concerns and objections.”

The state must submit its plan to the U.S. Department of Justice in time for a 60-day review to ensure that the maps do not dilute the power of black voters in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Legislators, who already postponed Virginia’s primary once to accommodate the once-a-decade redistricting process, could delay the primary date again or could cause the courts to intervene.

By  |  03:26 PM ET, 04/18/2011

 
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