RICHMOND — Virginia’s House delayed action yet again on the GOP’s surprise Senate redistricting plan Tuesday, pushing off the hot-button bill for the fourth time since Senate Republicans sprang it on an unsuspecting Capitol last week.
The House agreed to pass the bill by for the day.
The few minutes the measure was on the floor provided a glimpse into what has been going on behind the scenes.
In response to a question from House Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville), Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Fredericksburg) said that he and several members of the Privileges and Elections Committee have been reviewing the bill.
When Toscano asked whether the House will finally get to consider the bill Thursday, Cole said: “If the review’s completed by then.”
The legislation, which Senate Republicans muscled through that chamber last week, redraws Senate districts across the commonwealth two years after the state adopted new General Assembly lines.
Senate Republicans sprang the bill on Democrats in the evenly divided chamber on Martin Luther King Day, capitalizing on the absence of a Democratic senator who was in Washington for President Obama’s inauguration. Taking up legislation calling for minor “technical adjustments” to House district boundaries, they amended it without notice to revamp all 40 Senate districts.
Taking effect in 2015, the new map would create an additional majority-black district in Southside. But it also would disperse the black vote in other districts, making at least eight of them more heavily Republican.
Republicans say the legislation would correct gerrymandered districts drawn two years ago when Democrats controlled the chamber. Democrats call the move an attempt to dilute the minority vote under the guise of creating a new minority district.
Democrats also say the redistricting effort is illegal because the state Constitution calls for redistricting every decade, after the decennial census, in years ending in one. But Republicans maintain that the Constitution sets a once-per-decade minimum for redistricting, not a maximum.
Among those blindsided by the bill were Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford). Some Republicans and Democrats familiar with their thinking have said they are struggling to decide what to do with the legislation.
In a cable TV interview Tuesday, McDonnell said he found last week’s Senate action “very troubling.” But he declined to say whether he would veto the bill.
The governor and speaker are wary of alienating either party as they seek bipartisan support for a transportation-funding overhaul, which would eliminate the gas tax but raise the sales tax and certain fees.