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Legislature goes back to the drawing board

By Staff | Aug 19, 2011

As this is being published the State Legislature is back in special session. We have to fix some technical problems with the redistricting bill we passed a couple of weeks ago.

Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the bill because of those technical problems. Had we not adjourned “sine die” we could have done the technical corrections in a day (we started Thursday, Aug. 18) by overriding his veto. But since we did so adjourn, we must start over. Since the Republican leadership in the House of Delegates apparently will not agree to suspending the rules we will most likely have to take three days.

Some explanation of procedure is in order here. “Sine die” (properly pronounced “see-nay dee-ay” but usually pronounced in almost every legislature in the land as “siney dye”) is a Latin phrase. Its literal translation is “without day.” By using that phrase we say we’re adjourning and not coming back. If we were not adjourning for good we would state a particular date and time for our return (like “tomorrow at 11 a.m.” or “Monday, Aug. 22, at noon”).

A bill must be read on “three several days.” First reading is the formal presentation of the bill to the “floor” (the full House), usually after the committee to which it has been referred has reported it to the floor. Sometimes a bill is read a first time before being referred to a committee and on rare occasions committee reference is dispensed with and the bill is only worked on the floor. Second reading is amendment stage and third reading is a vote on passage. It takes a vote of 80 percent of those present to do more than one reading the same day.

For some reason the Republicans in the State Senate are usually willing to suspend the rules to allow a bill to be read more than one time in a day. But the Republicans in the House always refuse. I’m not criticizing them – I’m sure they have their reasons. But I do find it curious how differently the Republicans in the two houses differ on this.

There were two technical problems with the bill we passed on Aug. 5, both the result of amendments that were adopted that day. One involves Hampshire County and the other the town of Montgomery, which straddles the Fayette County – Kanwha County line. In each case there were census blocks which were inadvertently counted twice.

A census block is the smallest collection of people we can move from one district to another. You cannot break up a census block because no one knows where anyone lives within that block. We only know how many people live in that block (or did so on April 1, 2010, the day the 2010 census was taken).

Some folks have asked me if we will make any major changes to the bill we originally passed. I would certainly like to do so because I’m not really happy with it. I think we could have and should have ended up with more single-member districts than we did. We increased the number of single-member districts from 36 to 47, but I don’t think that was nearly enough.

And while we broke up the largest district, a seven-seater, into a four-seat district and a three-seater, we could have broken it up even more. We still have a five-seat district which could have easily been separated into a two and a three, and we still have a couple of other four-seaters which could have been just as easily divided into two-seat districts.

Alas, as of the time this is being written (Monday, Aug. 15) it does not appear we will do much more than make the necessary tweaks to make the numbers match. I spent all last week with about two dozen members of the House of Delegates in San Antonio at the Legislative Summit put on by the National Conference of State Legislatures. No one besides me expressed a desire to do any more than make the corrections necessary for numerical consistency.