- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - An ethics panel created by Gov. Terry McAuliffe says legislative redistricting should be conducted by an independent commission.

The Commission to Ensure Integrity and Public Confidence in State Government wants the General Assembly to approve a constitutional amendment during the 2015 session to create a commission to draw districts and pass a law prohibiting the panel from considering election results when setting district boundaries. A constitutional amendment would need to be passed twice by the General Assembly followed by voter approval.

As proposed, five members of the redistricting commission would draw districts instead of state legislators. One member each would be chosen by the House speaker and minority leader as well as the Senate majority and minority leader. Those four would then choose the fifth member. If they fail to agree, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court would appoint the fifth member.

Media outlets report that panel members are aware that the proposals will likely face opposition as Republicans in control in the General Assembly have routinely rejected nonpartisan redistricting plans. Thirteen states use commissions to redraw legislative boundaries, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The commission is “not naive enough to think that whatever we recommend is going to be enthusiastically received by members of the General Assembly,” said former Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who co-chairs the 10-member panel along with former U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher. “But it is an issue that we need to keep front and center.”

Republican House Speaker William J. Howell would resist changes to the redistricting process, spokesman Matt Moran said.

“Redistricting was established by the framers as a part of the political process,” Moran said. “The speaker respects this process and has serious reservations about changes. … Independent commissions are only as independent as those who serve on them.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, said creating a redistricting commission would make government more responsive and increase voter participation in elections.

The redistricting recommendation is part of a broader set of ethics reform proposals from the 10-member panel formed in the wake of former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s corruption conviction.

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