As part of the Senate’s bill for the biennial budget, one amendment offers details and more specifics on the proposed Virginia Redistricting Commission.
Included in the budget amendment item 4-14 is eligibility criteria for citizen commission members, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and public participation in the redistricting process.
For background, the Virginia Redistricting Commission would consist of 16 commissioners responsible for drawing Virginia’s legislative and congressional districts after the completion of the 2020 U.S. Census.
The commission would include eight legislators from the General Assembly – two lawmakers from the majority and minority parties of each legislative body – and eight citizens to be chosen by the Redistricting Commission Selection Committee.
The selection committee would be made up of five retired circuit court Judges who would consider the racial, ethnic, geographic, and gender diversity of the Commonwealth when selecting citizens.
The budget amendment provides specific eligibility criteria for people who wish to apply for the eight citizen commissioner spots.
To be eligible a person must be a resident of Virginia, be a registered voter for three years prior to applying and must have voted in at least two out of the last three general elections.
Eligibility exemptions are as follows for any person that:
- Holds or has held or sought public office or political party office
- Is or has been employed by a member of the U.S. Congress or the General Assembly, or is or has been employed directly by those two bodies
- Is employed by or has been employed by any federal, state, or local campaign
- Is employed by or has been employed by any political party or is a member of a political party central committee
- Is a registered lobbyist or has been a lobbyist’s principal in the last five years
- Is related to a person described in points 1-5
Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) is one Assembly member who supports the redistricting commission and the outlined parameters for participation.
“The remaining eight members are intended to be not actively affiliated with a political party so we can bring that objective perspective [to the commission], so I do think that these are good exemptions,” Favola said in an interview with The Virginia Star.
Opponents of the commission, like Del. Mark Levine (D-Arlington), argue that because party leaders from the Senate and House provide lists of citizen applicants for the judges to choose from that it will lead to more partisanship and allow eight legislators to control redistricting instead of 140.
Favola rejects that notion completely.
“We don’t have any interest at all in putting names down on a list for potential appointments of people who are not thoughtful, who would not bring a helpful perspective to the table,” Favola said “So, obviously they got to meet these minimum requirements, but there will be a lot of thought put into who should be considered. This is an important commission.”
The budget Amendment also outlines various methods for transparency on the redistricting commission’s decisions and process.
All meeting and records of the selection committee will be subject to FOIA requests.
Meetings and hearings for the commission will be available for the public to attend and participate and before proposing or voting on any new drawings of districts at least three public hearings will be held throughout Virginia where the public can issue comments.
The redistricting commission will also establish and maintain a website to share its activity and post all data used in the drawing of districts.
The power to decide whether the Virginia constitution is amended and the commission is formed or if the power to draw districts remains with the General Assembly is still up to the voters of the Commonwealth.
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Jacob Taylor is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Follow Jacob on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]
Background Photo “Virginia State Capitol” by Jim Bowen. CC BY 2.0.