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House backs congressional redistricting plan

By CHELYEN DAVIS

RICHMOND—The House of Delegates Thursday gave preliminary approval to a congressional redistricting bill.

The bill is just like one sponsored last year by former Del. Bill Janis, a Republican who represented Richmond; it stalled when Senate Democrats rejected it.

Janis is now out of the House, and Del. Rob Bell, R–Albemarle, has revived the bill.

Lawmakers are under a time crunch to finish redrawing the congressional district lines in time for the congressional races this fall. If they don’t, they would have to move the scheduled June primary date back.

That, Republicans said, is why they pushed to debate Bell’s bill on just the second day of the legislative session.

“We have been advised to move this along as quickly as we are able,” Bell said.

Democrats also questioned whether it was constitutional for the legislature to do congressional redistricting now, rather than in 2011.

House Speaker Bill Howell, R–Stafford, said they should at least try.

“Until the courts tell us otherwise, I think it’s our duty and obligation” to finish the redistricting work begun last year, he said.

Bell’s bill, like Janis’, essentially preserves the 11 congressional districts as they are now, with lines being moved only to accommodate population shifts.

Under the bill, the 1st District, now held by Rep. Rob Wittman, would run from the York County area through Prince William, and take in more territory in Prince William County, areas that were formerly in the 11th District.

The Northern Neck, Fredericksburg, Stafford County and all of Caroline County would be in the 1st, while most of Spotsylvania County would now be in the 7th.

The 7th District, whose seat is held by Rep. Eric Cantor, would run from Richmond through Culpeper, and include the bulk of Spotsylvania, along with Orange, Louisa and Culpeper. Madison County would shift to the 5th District.

In last year’s debate, Democrats preferred a Senate redistricting bill that would move the state’s lone minority-majority district, the 3rd, to the 4th, and make the 3rd a “minority influence” district, meaning the district would have a high percentage of black voters but less than 50 percent. It also made more sweeping changes to other district boundaries. That bill failed in the House.

Del. Jennifer McClellan, R–Richmond, said Democrats are concerned that the Bell/Janis version of the maps constitutes “packing” of minority voters into the 3rd District.

There is a June primary for the U.S. Senate and for other races, including congressional ones. State lawmakers need to finish the new congressional districts soon so that the primary can be held on time.

Del. Chris Jones, R–Suffolk, has a bill that would shift the primary date to August, but he said that is simply a place-holder in case lawmakers can’t get a redistricting bill passed.

Republicans now control the state Senate—Democrats controlled it last year—which should increase the likelihood of Bell’s bill winning approval.

On a voice vote the House engrossed the bill, which means it will receive a final vote tomorrow and then head to the Senate.

Chelyen Davis: 804/343-2245

cdavis@freelancestar.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/newsdesk/2012/01/12/house-backs-congressional-redistricting-plan/