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W.Va. House committee approves more single-member districts

By Staff | Aug 2, 2011

CHARLESTON (AP) – West Virginia’s House of Delegates would keep some multi-member districts while increasing the ranks of single-member districts to 47 under a plan endorsed Tuesday by its redistricting committee.

Advocates of single-member districts for all 100 seats vowed to offer an alternative plan through a minority report that will accompany the bill to the full House, following the committee vote.

The Senate, meanwhile, expected to vote Wednesday on its redistricting plan as the special session called for by acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin entered its second day. A Senate committee on Tuesday tweaked one of Tomblin’s non-redistricting agenda items, which promises more severance tax revenues from coal for the counties that produce them.

The 2010 Census requires states to revisit legislative and congressional districts to ensure equal representation. The Eastern Panhandle and Morgantown areas led the state for growth and so they merit more legislators, while populations declined throughout the southern counties.

Tuesday’s House plan accomplishes that, while raising the number of single-seat districts from 36 to 47. The plan has several district areas that are currently multi-member, including Cabell, Kanawha, Putnam, Raleigh and Wyoming counties. But it keeps a seven-seat district in Kanawha County and increases a multi-member district in Monongalia County from four to five seats.

While the minority report is expected to propose all single-member districts, the nine amendments proposed during Tuesday’s committee meeting largely focused on more minor changes. All were rejected, including several that sought to swap voting precincts between districts sharing the same county while keeping their populations roughly the same.

Controlling the majority in both chambers, Democrats hold 20 of the House committee’s 30 seats. Members of both parties offered amendments Tuesday.

House Republicans are among those advocating 100 single-seat districts. House Minority Whip Mitch Carmichael questioned the refusal of fellow committee members to accept any of Tuesday’s amendments, including his exchanging precincts in his Jackson County area.

Carmichael cited how the House’s draft became available late Monday, several hours after the special session began, but that GOP delegates worked fast to craft practical amendments for the committee’s morning meeting.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job getting them in here and being willing to not raise Cain about all this, and say ‘We need more time, we need more time,'” Carmichael said. “There’s no reason to be opposed to this amendment other that just pure old meanness.”

The Senate’s plan would keep 17, two-member districts. Forty-two of the state’s 55 counties would remain intact within districts, while those would split the remaining 13. Kanawha County would lose its two overlapping districts, leaving it with one district and a second shared with neighboring Putnam County. Wayne and Monongalia counties would remain divided among three different districts. Mingo and McDowell counties are among those newly split, while Fayette, Mercer and Wyoming are among those unified by the pending plan.

A congressional plan is pending. At least two of the state’s three U.S. House of Representatives districts require changes.

Tomblin’s severance tax bill would dedicate annual revenues toward a special fund that coal producing counties could spend on economic development and infrastructure projects. It would gradually increase the revenue share over five years to 5 percent, for an estimated $20 million annually.

The Senate Committee on Economic Development amended the bill so the fund would cover incidental expenses for approved projects.

Tomblin’s non-redistricting agenda also includes increasing the cut to the food tax previously approved for Jan. 1 and $95.5 million in supplemental funding measures.