- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A Virginia Senate committee approved a plan Tuesday to create an independent commission that would be responsible for redrawing the state’s legislative districts.

The proposal mirrors a key recommendation of an ethics advisory panel appointed last year by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The bipartisan proposal from Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Winchester, was approved overwhelmingly by the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee and advances to the Senate floor.

Passage of the measure is by no means assured, however. The Senate has passed similar bills in the past, only to see them killed in the House of Delegates.

Redistricting has long been controlled by the majority party, and lawmakers have been reluctant to give up the power. Republicans have a two-thirds majority in the House.

Lucas said the goal of creating an independent commission is to eliminate gerrymandering, the process of creating oddly shaped districts calculated to protect incumbents and the party in power. The current system has produced uncompetitive districts and legislative gridlock, she said.

“Virginia is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation,” she said. “It is time to fix this broken system.”

The Lucas-Vogel proposal calls for a seven-member commission that would redraw General Assembly and congressional districts after each federal census. Four members would be political partisans, two each appointed by Democratic and Republican leaders in the Assembly. The other three would be nonpartisan public officials: the auditor of public accounts, the state inspector general and the executive director of the Virginia State Bar.

In other action, the Republican-controlled Senate committee rejected another McAuliffe ethics proposal: a ban on campaign fundraising during special legislative sessions. Fundraising is now prohibited only during regular sessions.

The McAuliffe proposal was defeated on an 8-7 party-line vote.

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