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Senate redistricting plan fails, leaving Halifax split in half
SoVaNow.com / February 07, 2013A controversial State Senate redistricting plan that would have placed the southern half of Halifax County in a new black-majority district is dead following action Wednesday in the House of Delegates.
William Howell, Speaker of the House, ruled that the off-year redraw of Virginia Senate districts was not germane to a House bill that provided the legislative basis for the change. With the parliamentary ruling, plans by Senate Republicans to shift the district lines for the 2015 legislative elections have failed.
The bill was first put forth by Powhatan Senator John Watkins on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and passed the evenly divided Senate by a 20-19 vote. Senate Republicans took advantage of the absence of Richmond Democrat Henry L. Marsh, viewed by many as a civil right icon, who was in Washington for the inauguration of President Obama.
The redistricting plan would have created a new minority-majority district from Danville to Petersburg that also included the southern tier of Halifax County, including the town of Halifax and most of the Town of South Boston. Predominately northern and eastern portions of the county would have remained in the 15th Senate District, represented by Sen. Frank Ruff (R-Clarksvile).
The county is currently split in eastern and western halves, with Ruff having the eastern portion in his district and the western half falling into the district served by GOP Sen. Bill Stanley of Franklin.
The decision by Howell to nix the plans came after Democrats threatened to tie up GOP spending priorities in the State Senate and bring legal action if the plan survived.
Following Howell’s ruling, Marsh commented, “I am pleased the Speaker upheld the integrity of the House and the Constitution.”
Howell also garnered praise from Senator Richard L. Saslaw of Fairfax, leader of the Democratic minority in the upper chamber. “I told people from day one, when they asked me what I thought Bill Howell will do with it, that the Speaker would do what’s right,” said Saslaw.
Henrico Senator Donald McEachin also hailed Howell's ruling: “He rose above petty partisanship to act in the best interest of the Commonwealth,” McEachin said.
Following its passage, Senate Republicans defended the plan as having corrected a flawed Democratic-led redistricting plan enacted in 2011. That plan first split Halifax County in two. GOP Senators also said their plan enhanced the prospects for African-American representation in the State Senate, although it also diluted Democratic strength in other districts.
According to the Code of Virginia, “The governing body of a county, city or town shall not reapportion the representation in the governing body at any time other than that required following the decennial census.”
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