Senate Will Vote on Redrawing House Districts

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(Host) The Vermont Senate this week is set to consider a plan to reapportion the House. The bill, which was drafted by a special Senate committee, makes a number of changes to a map approved by the House last month.

If the Senate passes this bill this week, House leaders have vowed to get revenge and it’s possible that this issue will not be settled until this summer.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) There is little doubt that one of the most explosive issues at the Statehouse this year is legislation that calls for new House and Senate districts based on the most recent census.

The Legislature has never considered reapportionment with the House and the Senate controlled by different political parties; this year the Republicans have a majority in the House and the Democrats have one in the Senate. As a result, the battle over this issue has been very partisan.

Last month the House gave its approval to a new map but Democrats complained that it was unfair because it forced a number of Democratic incumbents to face each other in newly redrawn districts. A special Senate committee has studied the House map and has concluded that it has to be changed. This is noteworthy because in Vermont’s previous four cases of reapportionment, the House and Senate did not alter the map of the other chamber.

Senate Committee Chairman Dick Sears says his panel had to change the House map because some districts were blatantly partisan, such as a plan to place Warren and Lincoln in the same district even though they are separated by a mountain:

(Sears) "For some reason it seems like we’ve gone into a bastion of something that the House just doesn’t feel we should have approached and that troubles me some. And part of the reason that troubles me is if they didn’t want it touched maybe they shouldn’t have done some of the things they did that caused such outrage out in the communities."

If the Senate goes ahead with its plan to redraw the House map, the House is set to make enormous changes in the current Senate map. The House Government Operations committee has drafted a map that creates fifteen two-member senate districts. The six-member Chittenden district would be eliminated as well as the three-member districts in Rutland and Washington counties.

Committee Chairman Cola Hudson says once this battle begins with the Senate, there is no telling how it will end:

(Hudson) "What’s coming to pass is very unpredictable at this time. I think it’s unnecessary. I think the system that we’ve had in the past has worked I think it’s upheld the mandate of the statutes and by and large it’s been a satisfactory solution to the problem of reapportionment of the state of Vermont. And this is a departure from that and now we do not know what we have done or what the consequences of it will be."

If the House and Senate cannot agree on a new reapportionment map for both chambers, it is likely that the issue will have to be resolved by the courts.

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

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