CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Republicans in the House of Delegates are pushing a bill to change the chamber’s makeup to 100 single-member districts after the 2020 Census.
The bill’s move through the House Judiciary Committee on Monday afternoon received an audience from House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, who has long advocated for single-member districts. Armstead is one of the sponsors.
Speaker Armstead has come in to watch pic.twitter.com/QopFVEqQA2
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) January 15, 2018
Republicans say they also intend to run a separate bill establishing a nonpartisan commission to recommend the shape of new districts after the next Census.
But Democrats on House Judiciary said such a commission should have been paired with the single-member districts bill. Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, offered an amendment designating a commission but it was voted down along party lines.
“I think we just showed that this bill is more about politics than it is about policy,” Pushkin said after the vote on his amendment.
Pushkin described a commission to make redistricting recommendations as a way to avoid gerrymandering.
“I’ve always believed voters should choose their representatives, not politicians choosing their voters,” he said.
Republicans on the committee criticized his amendment for lacking detail, although Pushkin said he was only trying to establish a a basic outline for what might work.
“We’ve had this on our plate for 15 minutes. Something this significant requires more vetting than 15 or 20 minutes of discussion. And it needs to get into the weeds. It needs more detail,” said Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette.
The bill’s main sponsor, Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, said he has a separate bill meant to establish a redistricting commission, as he has several times in the past. “If I might add, I would welcome additional co-sponsors on that,” Overington said.
House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said leadership intends to run a bill to that effect. “It’s on our agenda now, and it’s on our agenda of bills we intend to run.”
Members of the committee agreed on a different amendment.
Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, disagreed with the premises of a portion of the bill dealing with “findings of fact.” They seemed more like opinion to her.
She particularly objected to phrasing that said single-member districts would serve as a check on corruption and remove inequities.
Delegate Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay and vice-chairman of the committee, proposed removing all of the findings of fact, not just the ones Fleischauer singled out. The committee approved doing so.
The committee spent the better part of Monday afternoon debating the bill.
Delegate Andrew Robinson, D-Kanawha, said it was silly to have made redistricting the focus on the fourth day of the 2018 session, still far out from the 2020 Census.
“I’m going to vote no out of spite since we wasted this committee’s time,” Robinson said, partly in jest.
The bill was passed out of committee and now goes to the floor.