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BY CHELYEN DAVIS
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
RICHMOND--The surprise Senate redistricting plan that revived partisan divisions in the legislature is dead, at least for now, after House Speaker Bill Howell ruled the plan out of order on Wednesday.
Howell, R-Stafford, ruled that the plan, attached as an amendment to a House bill, was not germane to the bill.
That essentially kills the plan.
Germaneness is a parliamentary term, referring to whether amendments to a bill are in keeping with the purpose, scope and intent of the original bill.
Howell said he has tried to be consistently strict with germaneness rulings as speaker.
The Senate amendment, made to a House bill to make technical adjustments to various district lines, "has been modified to stray dramatically, in my opinion, from the legislation's original purpose of addressing relatively technical, minor administrative adjustments to certain districts," Howell said. "This vast rewrite of Senate districts goes well beyond the usual legislative electoral precinct tweaks that are customary in each redistricting cycle."
Howell's ruling came more than two weeks after the Senate Republicans took Capitol Square by surprise, waiting until one Senate Democrat was absent in the evenly split chamber to introduce and pass an amendment that would redraw all 40 Senate districts, creating a new majority-black district in Southside Virginia.
Democrats were furious and said it was unconstitutional to try to redraw districts outside of the every-10-years norm.
They rejoiced in Howell's ruling Wednesday.
"I appreciate the Speaker ruling in the spirit of the honor, integrity and history of the General Assembly," said Sen. Don McEachin, D-Henrico, in a statement. "He rose above petty partisanship to act in the best interest of the Commonwealth."
Senate Republicans were less happy. In a statement, Sen. Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, said Republicans had consulted lawyers about whether their amendment was germane, and they believe that it was.
Nevertheless, Norment said, "making this decision is solely the Speaker's prerogative. And although we may consider this decision to be in error, we have no choice but to respect his authority to make it."
Norment, however, added that Senate Republicans will continue to try to adjust the districts as drawn by Democrats in 2011, because he thinks the Republican plan is more fair to communities of interest.