Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Thank You Mr. Speaker

Today was a day of history at the General Assembly.  Those of you who have been carefully following the session know that after the House passed HB 259, which made technical adjustments to House district boundaries, the Senate amended the bill by adding a full-blown Senate redistricting.  Senator John Watkins offered the Senate amendments on the day of the Presidential Inauguration, when civil rights hero Senator Henry Marsh was attending the inauguration.  Marsh’s absence reduced the number of Democratic Senator by 1, and the Republican plan passed on a 20-19 vote.

The move on Watkin’s part was viewed as a “nuclear option,” and it raised partisan tensions from red to white hot.  The Senate substitute for HB 259 was placed on the House Calendar on January 22, and until today, House Consideration was repeatedly delayed.

The bill was widely viewed as unconstitutional.  The Constitution of Virginia says, “The General Assembly shall reapportion the Commonwealth into electoral districts in accordance with this section in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter.”  Had the bill passed, precious state resources would have been wasted defending the state in court.

The bill was viewed as the dawn of a wickedly political era in Virginia politics, when redistricting would become routine and would follow every change in power in the General Assembly.

Some speculated that the Speaker of the House, Delegate William J. Howell of Stafford and Fredericksburg, may rule the measure out of order based on the single purpose rule, our Constitution says, “No law shall embrace more than one object, which shall be expressed in its title.”  Others speculated that he would rule on the germaneness of the amendment.  The latter proved true.

Speaker Howell ruled that the Senate amendment to HB 259 was not germane.  A narrow bill was amended to make it much broader.  The House bill made relatively minor technical amendments, but the Senate amendments were much broader.

Speaker Howell said, “for eleven years I have ruled how germaneness should be interpreted.  In keeping with the integrity of the House and the institution of the office of the Speaker, I rule the Senate amendments not germane.”

With his ruling, Speaker Howell put the integrity of the General Assembly before political gain, and in doing so proved himself a statesman.