After a strategy shift, the Virginia Redistricting Commission spent its two meetings this week discussing guidance from legal teams about how to ensure legal compliance with the Voting Rights Act (VRA), and how to consider political subdivisions, communities of interest, and partisan equity. Republican and Democratic legal teams shared different analyses of how to ensure compliance with section two of the VRA, which requires that districts not dilute the voting power of protected minorities. Democratic legal counsel argued that map drawers must create majority-minority districts where possible including through coalitions of minority groups. Republican counsel said that while creating those districts was permissible and even likely to happen, explicitly instructing the mapdrawers to consider race fell outside the legal criteria under which race can be considered, violating the Equal Protection Clause.
The commission debated the issue for hours across two meetings on Monday and Wednesday and defeated three proposals to say the mapdrawers “shall,” “may,” or “shall provide where practicable,” the majority-minority districts.
Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) summarized the debate over the “shall” language Monday: “This motion specifically means that we’re going to get sued one way or the other — one counsel is saying we specifically can’t do this, one counsel is saying we specifically have to do this.”
The Virginia Redistricting Commission voted Monday to start with blank, new maps. Some legislators proposed an alternate proposal to draw two sets of maps, one based off current maps, and one from a blank slate, but that motion was defeated.
Citizen Commissioner Sean Kumar (D) introduced the initial motion for blank maps, noting that in public comment, most of the public has expressed a desire for new maps, and that both parties have an interest in protecting the incumbents.
Barker introduced the substitute plan to draw the two sets of maps, and Senator Steve Newman (R-Bedford) seconded it.
Democrats approved Governor Ralph Northam’s proposal for an investigation into a 2020 investigation of the Virginia Parole Board. In Wednesday’s veto session, legislators passed a Northam budget amendment funding a $250,000 investigation into the 2020 Vincent Martin parole investigation. Although both Republicans and Democrats have been calling for a new investigation, Republicans said the proposal was too narrow and criticized the decision to allow the Attorney General any oversight.
The investigation into the Virginia Parole Board will be investigated, if legislators approve a proposal from Governor Ralph Northam. On Wednesday, Northam finalized his amendments to a budget passed by the Virginia General Assembly, including money for an investigation.
The Virginia state Senate on Wednesday voted to update the body’s standing committees for 2021 and simultaneously stripped GOP gubernatorial candidate Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) of her lone committee assignment from the previous year, resulting in a lengthy debate that highlighted the disconnect between the lawmaker and her colleagues.
The standing committee’s membership was updated at the request of Republicans in order to fill the vacancies left by the late Sen. Ben Chafin, who passed away from COVID-19 complications on New Year’s Day, according to Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax).
The application window to become one of eight citizen members on the new Virginia Redistricting Commission has reached the halfway point and a demographic breakdown of applicants to date from the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) reveals some interesting trends.
VPAP’s visual breakdown of applicants’ demographic makeup features things like race, gender, age, party affiliation and more.
Party leaders from the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates have appointed the eight lawmakers that will serve on the newly-formed bipartisan redistricting commission tasked with redrawing the Commonwealth’s legislative and congressional lines.
The Senators on the commission will be Steve Newman (R-Bedford), Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover), George Barker (D-Fairfax County) and Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), Amigo Wade, acting director of the Virginia Division of Legislative Services, told The Virginia Star.
The Virginia Sheriffs’ Association (VSA) sent a letter to Governor Ralph Northam on Monday asking him to amend two bills to allow law enforcement agencies to acquire armored military vehicles, which they argue are vital in extreme weather rescues as well as the protection of officers and citizens from gunfire.
Written by John Jones, VSA executive director, the letter asks Northam to amend House Bill 5049 and Senate Bill 5030, both of which were sent to the governor’s desk last week.