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GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Bill would give voters a voice in redistricting

RICHMOND—Should state lawmakers continue to draw their own districts every 10 years?

You could weigh in, under a bill passed by the state Senate Wednesday that calls for a referendum on whether Virginia should establish a bipartisan redistricting commission to redraw districts.

Redistricting—which happens after every census, to make sure each House, Senate and congressional district has relatively the same number of people in it—has always been done in Virginia by legislators themselves.

The result is often broad gerrymandering, with the party in power drawing districts in ways to best protect its incumbents. Both Republicans and Democrats do it, drawing districts to benefit themselves.

The party out of power is usually the one calling for redistricting to be put into non-partisan hands. But when in power, neither side is usually willing to give up control of district-drawing.

The bill from Sen. John Miller, D–Newport News, doesn’t require the state to listen to what voters say in a referendum on bipartisan redistricting. The bill says the results “shall be advisory only.”

It just requires the question to be asked.

“I think it’s time for the people of Virginia to weigh in on this very important issue,” Miller said Wednesday.

He said that Virginia rarely uses referendums, and said the last referendum held was in 1914.

“I think it’s fitting every 100 years we ask the people what they think,” he said.

The Senate passed his bill 36–4. The Senate has, actually, passed bipartisan redistricting bills before. But the bill is likely to get a less-friendly reception in the House, where past bills to change who controls redistricting have failed.

The Senate on Wednesday also passed Sen. Richard Stuart’s bill to have the Department of Environmental Quality develop regulations for hydraulic fracking in the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area.

Shore Exploration and Production Corp. has leased more than 80,000 acres for drilling in Colonial Beach, Caroline and Westmoreland counties and the Middle Peninsula.

Stuart, R–Stafford, says he’s concerned that such drilling could pollute the aquifer there.

Sen. Tom Garrett, R–Louisa, opposed the bill, saying other laws and agencies already cover fracking issues, and that the bill is “burdensome, cumbersome, duplicative” and “simply another obstacle and barrier to growth and jobs.”

Stuart said that Garrett was wrong because the state Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy had no authority over the water issues in the eastern Virginia area.

“That’s the whole point, to give DEQ the authority and jurisdiction to draft regulations to ensure the integrity of the aquifer,” Stuart said. “This bill’s not a prohibition. This bill is actually supported by the industry to give DEQ the authority to draft these regulations.”

The Senate passed his bill 28–12. It will now go to the House of Delegates.

Chelyen Davis: 804/343-2245


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