Redistricting will be a hot topic in upcoming General Assembly session

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RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — In two weeks, state lawmakers will meet in Richmond to kick off the 2019 session of the General Assembly.

One thing already be on their minds is state political boundaries, which are set to be redrawn in two years.

Gerrymandering is often an issue that comes up in redrawing district lines, and there is already a case heading to the Supreme Court right now about gerrymandered districts in the eastern part of the commonwealth.

Lower courts struck down several districts for packing black voters into certain districts to make surrounding districts whiter and more Republican.

Senator Emmett Hanger has proposed the idea of an independent commission to draw the district lines in the past, and he's planning on proposing the idea again this year.

It requires a constitutional amendment to change who draws the boundaries, and he's working with One Virginia 2021 and other groups on their proposal.

The idea is that an independent commission would draw the lines instead of state lawmakers. The hope is to help prevent partisan gerrymandering.

"You can't take politics out of the redistricting process, it's political in nature, but you can set up a process if our constitution allows it," Senator Hanger said.

However, other lawmakers from the Shenandoah Valley have concerns about the creation of an independent commission. Delegates Steve Landes and Dickie Bell have doubts about the accountability of the group since they would not be elected officials.

"And they may do a great job, I'm not saying they're not capable," Del. Bell said. "I'm just saying that if they come up with a plan that's not satisfactory, they're not accountable for it; we are."

Landes agrees with concerns about accountability, but also says that drawing district lines has been a responsibility of the legislature, and it should stay that way.

"I think it takes the power away from the General Assembly and that's what the constitution both at the federal and the state level have always given to the legislative body," Del. Landes said.

It would take several years for the redistricting process to change. Virginia law requires constitutional amendments to be passed in two General Assembly sessions (in this case, 2019 and 2020), with an election in between.

Virginia voters would then have the chance to vote on the amendment as a referendum. All of that would need to be in place in time for the required redistricting in 2021.

The General Assembly session begins on January 9.