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Fixing redistricting bill to take days Lawmakers cannot amend vetoed plan, must restart legislative process

Charleston Daily Mail (WV) - Friday, August 12, 2011
Author: JARED HUNT DAILY MAIL CAPITOL REPORTER

State legislators likely will be in town at least three days next week - at a cost of about $30,000 a day - to fix what went wrong in the House of Delegates' redistricting plan. 

Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Wednesday that he would need to veto the House's plan to reshape delegate districts because the bill contained technical errors in how certain precincts were allocated in portions of the state. 

Following that announcement, critics of the House's redistricting process asked that the acting governor use his veto to send a message to House leaders that they should hold more public hearings and establish more single-member districts. 

House leaders said the mistakes were contained to last-minute amendments to the bill and could be quickly fixed. 

However, it appears the process for correcting these mistakes will take more time than is usually the case with bills vetoed for errors. 

When Tomblin had to veto some bills earlier this year on technical grounds, the Legislature was still in session working on the state's budget bill. 

Lawmakers then had the chance to craft a simple amendment to correct the errors, take one vote in each house and send the bill back to Tomblin's office for approval. 

It won't be that easy this time. 

That's because the House and Senate adjourned "sine die" last Friday - meaning their special session was officially over. That ends the period of time in which lawmakers can consider any bill introduced during that session, including the redistricting bill. 

Once Tomblin vetoes the bill on technical grounds, it's officially dead. 

So lawmakers technically will have to start the legislative process again with a new bill in a second special session. 

The new bill would have to go back through the traditional committee process and then be considered on three separate days in the full House and Senate. 

The legislative rules can be suspended, but that would require a four-fifths vote of the 100-member House - 80 members. 

And it appears unlikely that the 35 members of the Republican caucus, who have complained that the redistricting process last week lacked transparency and public input, would be willing to speed up the process the second time around. 

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said Republicans would caucus prior to the start of the session next week to figure out how they want to navigate the session. 

But Armstead said he's already hearing from members who want to make sure as much time as possible is given to consider the bill. 

"The ones I have talked to have concerns about speeding up this process, particularly in light of what's already occurred with the mistakes in the bill," Armstead said. 

"There is a concern that if we rush through this again, this time there may be more errors in this bill and we may have to go back again," he said. "And that could be frustrating to both the Legislature and to the public as a whole." 

Armstead also said single-member districts would be debated once again. 

"We certainly intend to take an opportunity to try to convince the Legislature that single-member districts is the way to go," he said. 

"We think that there's an opportunity here - with the governor having vetoed this and our members having to go back after the original session and hear from their constituents of what their views are there - we feel like there may be additional support for single-member districts building upon the prior session." 

House Speaker Rick Thompson and House Majority Leader Brent Boggs, who served as chairman of the House redistricting committee, did not return requests for comment Thursday. 

Tomblin spokeswoman Kimberly Osborne said Thursday afternoon that the acting governor intended to call the Legislature into special session on Tuesday. 

She said the special session call would be "crafted very similarly as it was last week to call on the House of Delegates to revisit redistricting." 

That would put the ball back into the court of Thompson's leadership team. 

While the state Chamber of Commerce and Republican Party had been advocating for single-member districts and called upon Tomblin to veto the original bill regardless of the technical errors, it appears the acting governor will remain on the sidelines and let House leaders determine what they would like to do in the upcoming session. 

"The governor remains in favor of single-member districts," Osborne said. "However, the redistricting bill is a matter for the Legislature."