Reapportionment Debate Impacts Legislative Calendar

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(Host) Legislative leaders say they must have an agreement on a new House reapportionment plan by this Friday if lawmakers want to adjourn by the second week of May. If the House and Senate cannot agree on a new proposal, it’s likely that the issue will have to be resolved by the courts.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) This issue has become very controversial because it’s the first time that reapportionment has taken place with Republicans in control of the House and the Democrats with a majority in the Senate.

Last month, the House gave its approval to a plan that Democrats charged was partisan because it forced several incumbent Democrats to run against one another in newly drawn districts. Senate Democrats then redrew the House map, breaking a 40-year old tradition of allowing each chamber to determine its own reapportionment plan.

Now House and Senate negotiators will try to work out a compromise and they need a solution by Friday if there’s going to be a timely adjournment of the General Assembly. That’s because local boards of civil authority need 30 days to draw internal boundary lines for a number of districts. These plans then need to be approved by the Legislature.

Senate reapportionment chairman Dick Sears says it is critical to resolve this issue by the end of this week:

(Sears) "Anything beyond this Friday I think just extends the Legislative session, or we give up on reapportionment of the House – one or the other. Right now I’m kind of waiting on the House to make a decision. The ball’s in their court…. We believe what we did in the Senate is good bipartisan work, had strong support. We hope that they’ll work from our bill and make as few changes as possible."

(Kinzel) House Majority Leader John LaBarge says there are between five and eight districts where the House and Senate disagree. These districts are in Bennington, Washington, Franklin, Windham and Chittenden counties. LaBarge says he’s willing to make some compromises but he’s not going to make too many changes to the House plan:

(Labarge) "It will all depend what it does to our plan and I’m not going to give away the farm. So I’d rather have it go to court than to give away all the work we’ve done on this plan, just to satisfy the senate and their needs – or what they perceive as their needs for the House."

(Kinzel) Both the House and the Senate will also be working on a new plan to reapportion the Senate later this week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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