Howell rules Senate GOP redistricting move not germane
House Speaker Bill Howell on Wednesday ruled that Senate amendments to legislation redrawing political boundary lines were not germane to the the original House bill, throwing the future of the controversial party-line action of two weeks ago in doubt.
“House Bill 259, as unanimously passed by the House of Delegates last year, made technical adjustments to House legislative districts. The amendments offered by the Senate, however, made substantive and far-reaching changes to Senate legislative district lines,” Howell (R-Stafford) said in a statement. “While I respect the prerogative of the Senate and its members to deal with issues before that body, this legislation is in violation of House rules and the principles by which I have lead this body over the last 10 years.”
The amendments, passed on a 20-19 vote on a day in which one Democratic state senator, Henry Marsh, was absent to attend the inauguration of President Barack Obama, would have significantly altered the political landscape in the Senate, making at least six of the State Senate’s 40 districts more Republican in composition.
The State Senate currently has 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats.
Gov. Bob McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, both Republicans, had expressed reservations about the power grab made by the Senate Republican Caucus. Democrats in both the Senate and the House had made clear that the effort, if ultimately validated, would threaten to throw the rest of the General Assembly to a virtual standstill.
The Senate Republican redistricting plan clearly violated the Virginia Constitution and was passed with minimal debate or public discussion. It distracted us from focusing on improving our schools, fixing our transportation gridlock, and creating jobs,” said House Democratic Leader David J. Toscano.
“I commend Speaker Howell for falling on the right side of history and ruling the Senate redistricting power grab non-germane,” said Del. Charniele Herring, the chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia. “After over two weeks of political posturing from House Republicans it’s time we refocus all of our energy on creating jobs and passing meaningful legislation that will continue to make Virginia the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”
Howell himself said it is his hope “that we can refocus on the issues facing the Commonwealth. Jobs, K-12 education and transportation will require all of our attention and energy over the final weeks of this legislative session.”
“This is not a decision I made lightly,” Howell added. “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.”
For that, Howell earned praise from the left.
“I told people from day one, when they asked me what I thought Bill Howell would do with it, that the Speaker would do what’s right. He made a fair judgment and called it as he saw it,” State Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said. “And this time he saw it the same direction as us, but there have been times when he’s made rulings that were not what we wanted. He’s going to do what he thinks the traditions of the General Assembly and the House of Delegates require.”
“I appreciate the Speaker ruling in the spirit of the honor, integrity, and history of the General Assembly,” Senator A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) said. “He rose above petty partisanship to act in the best interest of the Commonwealth. I look forward working with the Speaker to address the important issues facing Virginia.”