VA House Speaker Stops Redistricting Bill

Del. Howell of Fredericksburg and Stafford broke with his own party to stop the plan.

Virginia Speaker of the House William J. Howell (R-28-Fredericksburg and Stafford) broke with his own party Wednesday, using a procedural ruling to stop the Republican-sponsored redistricting plan.

The plan might have had a chance of passing the Virginia House if it made it to the floor for a vote, but Howell quashed the bill, clearing the way for the House to concentrate on Gov. Bob McDonnell's transportation plan, The Washington Post reported.

“I am committed to upholding the honor and traditions of both the office of Speaker, the institution as a whole and the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Howell said in a statement.

The Senate had made changes to the House measure, so it had to return to the House of Delegates for approval. Howell said the amended bill was “modified to stray dramatically, in my opinion, from the legislation’s original purpose of addressing relatively technical, minor administrative adjustments to certain districts,” he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (R-James City County), said in a statement the Senate Republican Caucus "is deeply disappointed" by Howell's action.

The surprise bill was proposed by Virginia state senate Republicans on Jan. 21 -when Sen. Henry Marsh (D), a 79-year-old civil rights leader, traveled to Washington for President Barack Obama's inauguration. It was passed 20-19 by the Senate that day.

Sens. Janet Howell (D-Reston) and Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) voted no on the bill.

Many critics argued the bill was unconstitutional.  Under the Virginia Constitution, the General Assembly draws new Senate and House districts once a decade, and most recently did so in 2011.   

"Most damaging to the legislative process is the loss of trust that comes from the secretive and contrived way the action was taken," Del Ken Plum (D-Reston) said in a Reston Patch blog post last week. "While the House of Delegates has become entirely too infamous for political skirmishes, the State Senate has been relatively free of partisan controversy."

It would have essentially re-drawn the state senate districts, in many cases making them lean more Republican.

In the Republican proposal, moving those precincts to District 35, a seat held by Dick Saslaw (D).

Among other changes in Vienna: , making Howell's district 2.79 percent more Republican, according to VPAP.


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