Even as they feel heat from the federal courts, Virginia lawmakers continue to resist restrictions on their long-standing practice of drawing legislative district lines for partisan advantage.
A bipartisan group of measures designed to take politics out of the process was defeated Tuesday in a House of Delegates subcommittee – an indication that no substantive changes in the system will be made by the General Assembly this year.
The seven-member subcommittee of the Privileges and Elections Committee is the same panel that for years has killed every other attempt to overhaul the redistricting process.
The Assembly has long jealously guarded its power to draw lines for congressional and state legislative districts. Both parties have used that power for their own benefit when they controlled the legislature – most recently the Republicans, who now hold majorities in the House and Senate.
Most recent proposals to overhaul the system have come from minority Democrats. But mounting cries of alleged abuses are prompting calls for change from some Republicans.
The five measures killed Tuesday were proposed by three Democrats and two Republicans. They were dispatched in a single voice vote on a motion by Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania County, the chairman of the Privileges and Elections Committee. The entire discussion took 35 minutes.
“There’s no way to take politics out of an inherently political process,” Cole said.
Two of the defeated bills, HB26 from Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington County, and HB555 from Steven Landes, R-Augusta County, would have established criteria for the Assembly to observe in drawing districts, including respect for political boundaries, equal population, racial and ethnic fairness, contiguity, compactness and communities of interest. Use of political data or election results would have been prohibited in most cases.
Also shot down were three other bills:
HB553 from Randy Michew, R-Loudoun County, would have established nonbinding criteria for lawmakers, simply requiring them to state their reasons if they deviated from them.
HB247 from Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, would have called an advisory referendum on the establishment of an independent commission to draw district lines.
HB303 from Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, would have established an interim advisory commission to remedy any district declared illegal by the courts.
That’s what happened earlier this year when federal judges in Richmond ruled that the Assembly unconstitutionally packed too many black voters into U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott’s 3rd District in 2012.
On Monday, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts let that ruling stand for now, meaning the legislature must proceed with a dramatic redrawing of district lines that will endanger the re-election chances of Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, whose 4th District will shift from a safe Republican seat to a Democrat-leaning one.
Three redistricting bills similar to those killed Tuesday were passed Monday by the Senate, but they must pass through the same House subcommittee, where they will almost certainly die.
This story originally appeared on PilotOnline.com