Va. Senate OK’s constitutional amendments

January 28, 2013

You know it’s a busy day in the Virginia Senate when members vote on five proposed constitutional amendments — and actually pass three.

The Senate voted Monday to change the constitution to allow governors to serve two terms in a row, create a state redistricting commission and restore voting rights to ex-felons.

It rejected two other resolutions, one that would have enshrined the state’s right-to-work laws in the constitution, and another to make it easier to establish charter schools.

The amendments the Senate backed still have to get by the House and Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R). And that would be just the start of the multi-year process to tinker with the document. The measures would have to clear the General Assembly a second time, in a subsequent session held after a House election. Then they must win approval from voters in a statewide referendum.

One measure that passed Monday would allow Virginia governors to succeed themselves. The constitution already allows governors to serve more than one term, but they cannot serve them consecutively.

Sen. Thomas A. Garrett (R-Louisa) proposed the measure, saying that governors might be able to better tackle long-term problems like transportation funding if they had more time in office. It passed 25 to 15.

Another proposed amendment would establish a state redistricting commission. It came one week after Republicans sprang a surprise Senate redistricting plan to create new Senate districts across the state. It passed 34 to 6.

Proposed by Sens. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) and Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk), it would create a commission to redraw congressional and General Assembly district boundaries after each decennial census. Appointments to the 13-member commission would made by the president pro tempore of the Senate, the House speaker, the minority leader in each chamber, and the state chairman of each of the two political parties receiving the most votes in the prior gubernatorial election.

The third amendment approved yesterday would allow ex-felons who have paid their debts to society to vote. Currently, they must appeal to the governor to have that right restored.

The measure passed the Senate 30 to 10 but is expected to have a tougher time in the House, despite support from McDonnell. A House panel earlier this session killed nine bills to automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent felons.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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