The House of Delegates will take a break from Sunday afternoon football games on Oct. 21 to grapple with the thorny challenge of redrawing their political districts with elections looming for all 100 members next year.
House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, called the House back into session at 5 p.m. on that Sunday afternoon, with plans to meet again the following Monday morning, to act on a proposed Republican redistricting plan before a federal court deadline on Oct. 30.
Spokesman Parker Slaybaugh said the speaker scheduled the unusual Sunday legislative session to accommodate legislators' schedules and minimize time off their normal jobs.
Cox said Tuesday that he is reconvening the House to "fulfill our constitutional duty to pass a redistricting map." He also is trying head off the possibility of federal judges drawing their own electoral map to resolve their findings of racial gerrymandering in 11 House districts under the electoral map the Republican-controlled legislature adopted in 2011.
"I am firmly against judicial overreach and allowing federal judges to draw the map," the speaker said in a statement.
Kathryn Gilley, spokeswoman for House Democrats, said the speaker’s announcement represents another delaying tactic to avoid correcting the racial gerrymandering found by a panel of federal judges in late June.
“It’s not surprising that they waited until the week before the deadline to reconvene the House,” Gilley said. “Why not now?”
Cox endorsed House Bill 7003, a plan House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, proposed last week as an alternative to redistricting plans the Republican and Democratic party caucuses proposed Aug. 30 with no support for one another.
Jones introduced the bill on Wednesday with expressions of general support from a handful of House Democrats and Sen. Lionel Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake, but the Republican-controlled elections committee endorsed the plan the next day on a 12-10 party-line vote. The committee also voted on party lines to kill the Democratic plan proposed by Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico.
Cox called the new Republican proposal a "politically neutral, race-blind redistricting plan developed with a bipartisan coalition of legislators who believe there should be a legislative solution."
“While we maintain the constitutionality of the bipartisan plan adopted in 2011 and will continue to pursue our appeal to the Supreme Court, we are also trying to meet the October 30th deadline set by the District Court," he said. "I have communicated our intentions to convene with Senate leadership."
“The bottom line is this is the constitutional responsibility of the legislature," Cox said. "It is my sincere hope that over the coming weeks Democrats make an honest effort find a bipartisan agreement on HB7003."