It looks like the General Assembly is setting up an exceedingly quick schedule for its once-a-decade redistricting process.
Sen. Janet Howell (D) has indicated that Senate leadership may introduce its redistricting legislation on March 29, filing a bill that would include new maps of legislative districts. House leaders may do the same.
The House and Senate committees responsible for redistricting have now set dates for joint public hearings as well, scheduling them for locations around the state March 31 and April 2.
That’s on the eve of the start of the special legislative session to consider new lines on April 4.
As the folks at the Virginia Public Access Project have noted, that timeline would suggest that the General Assembly might be intending to adopt its new maps for the state Senate, House of Delegates and Congressional delegation on April 6, the day when the legislature will also consider amendments and vetoes by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) to bills they adopted during the legislative session.
That timeline would be faster than the state’s last redistricting in 2001, when the General Assembly adopted state legislative districts in April but returned to Richmond several months later to consider Congressional boundaries.
It would also give the General Assembly very little time to absorb the recommendations of McDonnell’s independent bipartisan commission on redistricting, which will release a report on the process and probably some suggested maps for the legislature to consider by April 1.
The legislature will not necessarily consider the commissions’ work in legislative form. A spokesman for McDonnell confirmed this week that the governor does not plan to codify the work of the commission as a bill for formal consideration.
“The governor called for the independent redistricting commission to serve not as a purveyor of any political opinions, but as an objective entity from which the General Assembly can derive data in making its own decisions on this issue,” McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell. “The commission will transmit its findings and suggestions directly to the General Assembly.”
The legislature would be under no obligation to consider the commission’s plan even if submitted as a bill. (Recall the governor’s proposal to privatize state-run liquor stores, legislation that was ignored by both chambers this year.)
And just because the governor does not ask a lawmaker to sponsor a bill based on the commission’s work on his behalf, a delegate or senator could take their own initiative and introduce the commission’s maps. (Recall, again, how Del. Bob Brink (D) sponsored the governor’s ABC bill in the House this year without his approval.)
But it will probably strengthen those voices who are concerned that the bipartisan commission’s work will not be taken seriously enough by the legislature.
Caldwell said McDonnell established the commission to provide “objective input.”
“He will review the redistricting legislation that is passed by the General Assembly after they complete their work on it, just as he reviews their other legislation,” he said.