A constitutional amendment reforming the state’s redistricting process cleared a House panel Monday, readying the measure for a contentious vote before the full House this week ahead of Saturday’s adjournment.
Four Democrats joined all nine Republicans on the House Privileges and Elections Committee to approve the amendment, illustrating the divisions among Democrats over the process for redrawing legislative and congressional districts.
House leaders had for weeks delayed taking up the measure as Democrats internally debated the amendment and other bills that would reform the process without constitutional tinkering.
The House elections panel took up the measure as its last piece of work for the legislative session and voted 13-8 to approve Senate Joint Resolution 18.
Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, the sponsor of the measure, said it was the result of compromise and will guarantee that the 2021 redistricting process is not in the hands of the legislature.
He said the bill and enabling legislation will make gerrymandered districts “far less likely.” The measure cleared the full Senate last month on a 38-2 vote.
The proposed constitutional amendment would shift power over the drawing of districts from the General Assembly to a 16-member bipartisan commission of legislators and citizens. In the event of an impasse, the Supreme Court of Virginia would have the final say.
Through legislation to enact the amendment, Democrats who back it have set up guidelines for how the maps should be drawn, including no partisan gerrymandering.
The proposed amendment cleared the legislature by large margins in 2019. In order to be enacted it must pass the legislature again this year and then win voters’ approval in a November statewide referendum.
Supporters of the amendment made up most of the crowd in the committee room at the Pocahontas Building, holding signs that read “AMEND!” and cheering once the panel’s vote was finalized.
On the other side were several Democrats who described the amendment as “flawed” and possibly “catastrophic.”
Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, said the measure’s shortcomings, which she has spoken about since last year, forced her to vote no on the measure again.
While the amendment makes reference to the Voting Rights Act, Price said it does not enshrine the federal measure’s language, which she fears could be stripped by Republicans in Congress.
She also said the amendment does not mandate racial diversity on the committee that will draw the maps.
“They are fatal flaws and they don’t end gerrymandering,” Price said.
Price introduced an alternative measure that would set up a similar commission and ensure diversity on the panel, which would abide by the same parameters for drawing districts as the commission set up by the amendment. Price’s House Bill 1256 cleared the Senate Finance Committee Monday night in a bloc with other bills, ushering it to the full Senate.
Opponents of the amendment, like Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, and Del. Joe Lindsey, D-Norfolk, chairman of the Privileges and Elections Committee, argued that the process could be easily kicked to the Virginia Supreme Court, which is controlled by judges appointed by Republican legislatures.
Lindsey called the measure a “piss poor” piece of legislation. “I hate that the [Virginia] Supreme Court is the backdrop,” he added.
Supporters of the amendment, however, argued that Price’s measure would set up a commission with a role that would be simply advisory, and would not end the legislature’s sweeping power over redistricting.
The final showdown will come down to votes on each measure on the Senate and House floors. House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, supports Price’s alternative, as Democratic leaders in the Senate remain steadfast in their support of the amendment.
Gov. Ralph Northam, who is relying on the process to yield reform, a key campaign promise, said last week through his administration that he was ready to step in if needed.
“The governor has always said he expects to see reform in time for next year’s redistricting, regardless of the legislative vehicle,” Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in a statement.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax’s defense against sexual assault allegations brought against him last year spilled over Monday, as he called former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney “racist” and accused them of politically planting the allegations — something McAuliffe and Stoney deny.
Fairfax’s comments came a day after former Vice President Joe Biden, in Norfolk, called McAuliffe the “once and future governor of Virginia,” a comment that irked Fairfax, who plans to run for the Executive Mansion next year. Stoney, a close McAuliffe ally, also has not ruled out a run.
“Voters will decide who the next governor is. Terry McAuliffe is a racist and [Richmond Mayor] Levar Stoney also is a racist and he’s doing the bidding of Terry McAuliffe,” Fairfax said in an interview Monday. “Terry McAuliffe and Levar Stoney pushed false rape allegations against the black lieutenant governor of the commonwealth of Virginia and the voters are going to make them pay.”
Two women — Meredith Watson and Vanessa Tyson — accused Fairfax of sexual assault, allegations that surfaced in February 2019, a chaotic month in Virginia politics when news emerged of a racist photo on Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface in 1980.
Fairfax says the allegations were timed to surface as calls for Northam to resign raised the prospect that Fairfax could soon become governor.
Stoney and McAuliffe again Monday denied involvement in the allegations against Fairfax.
“As the mayor said over a year ago, this claim is 100 percent untrue and, frankly, offensive,” said Kevin Zeithaml, Stoney’s 2020 mayoral campaign manager, in a statement. “The mayor believes all survivors deserve to be believed and respected and it’s sad that [Fairfax] continues to attempt to demean and discredit these women for having the courage to come forward.”
McAuliffe, who called on Fairfax to resign last year shortly after the allegations became public, said in an interview Monday that the first he heard of the accusations against Fairfax was from the news media.
“I was in the middle of preparing to run for president and literally the last thing on my mind was Justin Fairfax,” McAuliffe said. (He announced in April that he would not seek the Democratic nomination for president.)
Tyson, a college professor turned California state legislature candidate, said Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex in Boston in 2004. Watson accused Fairfax of raping her when they attended Duke University in 2000.
Fairfax denies the allegations — he called them a “hoax” on Monday — including in a defamation lawsuit against CBS filed in September. A federal judge dismissed the suit last month. Fairfax plans to appeal.
In the lawsuit, Fairfax claims Stoney, one of Stoney’s former advisers and the adviser’s wife “intended to promote a supposedly damaging, uncorroborated accusation against Fairfax involving Tyson in an attempt to harm Fairfax personally and professionally and to derail his political future.”
Stoney, along with the former adviser and his wife, have long denied involvement in the allegations becoming public.
Biden’s comments Sunday intensified speculation that McAuliffe, who Stoney served under as secretary of the commonwealth, would run again in 2021.
McAuliffe, who led the state from 2014 to 2018, is considering another bid for governor after deciding not to run in the crowded Democratic primary for president. Virginia is the only state in which a governor cannot serve consecutive four-year terms, but state law does not prohibit governors from waiting four years and then running again.
“I’m focused this year totally on winning the White House,” McAuliffe said Monday when asked about Biden’s comment. “We’ll see where we are next year. I don’t foreclose anything.”
He added: “I want to make sure we win this White House. The stakes of Virginia in  — a lot of it will be dependent on how we do this year in 2020.”
Stoney and McAuliffe, along with many of the state’s high-ranking Democrats, have endorsed Biden.
Fairfax tweeted Sunday night after Biden’s comment that he was considering voting for Biden, but McAuliffe and Stoney “orchestrated racist false allegations” against him to “try to stop my rise to Governor.”
“Black people are tired of this routine,” Fairfax tweeted.
He added Monday: “I’m going to run for governor and the people are going to support me and we’re going to win because the people want the truth.”
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Police have used DNA techniques to produce what is believed to be a likeness of a young woman whose remains were discovered at a landfill in Chesterfield County more than three decades ago.
Chesterfield police said Monday that the remains were discovered at the Chesterfield landfill on Aug. 7, 1986, when workers unloading refuse from the School Street transfer station in Richmond noticed what appeared to be human remains.
Police conducted an extensive search and recovered human remains, which were taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for analysis. It was determined the cause of death was homicide.
According to news accounts at the time, police thought the slaying was committed by a psychopath. The missing parts were the victim’s head and hands, which had been sawed from her body. Police said at the time they believed the body may have been stored for up to two months in a cool, insect-free environment.
Police said Monday that the autopsy and other tests completed by the medical examiner revealed that the remains were those of a white female, about 22 to 32 years old.
She was likely between 5 feet 1 inch and 5 feet 5 inches tall, likely weighed between 105 and 120 pounds and wore a size 7 or 7½ shoe. She was wearing pink toenail polish and a dark, rubber-like bracelet or band was on her left ankle, police said.
The medical examiner, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science and Chesterfield police have been working to identify the body and have ruled out multiple missing people using various techniques, including DNA comparisons. To date, the victim remains unidentified.
Last year, detectives sought the services of Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Reston that specializes in DNA phenotyping — the process of predicting physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence.
Police said law enforcement agencies use the company’s Snapshot DNA Phenotyping Service to narrow suspect lists and generate leads in criminal investigations.
Snapshot produced trait predictions for the unknown woman’s ancestry, eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling and face shape. Combining those attributes, a Snapshot composite was produced depicting what the unknown woman may have looked like at age 25 with an average body mass.
Detectives have determined that she may have had ties to the Richmond, Charlottesville, Buena Vista and Lynchburg areas in Virginia as well as Baltimore.
Anyone with information regarding her identity is urged to contact the Chesterfield Unsolved/Major Investigations Group at (804) 717-6024.
Virginians head to the polls on Tuesday to choose the Democrat they want to take on President Donald Trump in November. Virginians do not register by party. Any registered voter may take part in the primary.
Tuesday, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Anyone in line at 7 p.m. will be allowed to vote.
The high temperature will be 68 degrees. There will be cloudy skies and a 60% chance of showers.
Bring photo identification. Voters in the Richmond area will cast paper ballots. They will fill in ovals and insert the ballots into optical scanning machines.
What’s on the ballot?
While 14 candidates qualified in December for Virginia’s primary — and their names will be on the ballot Tuesday — all but five candidates have dropped out of the contest.
The remaining candidates, in alphabetical order, are former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
What’s at stake?
A candidate needs to accumulate 1,990 pledged delegates to win the Democratic presidential nomination. In the 14 states voting on Super Tuesday, 1,357 delegates are at stake.
Virginia is the fourth-largest prize on Super Tuesday, awarding 99 pledged delegates, ranking behind California (415), Texas (228) and North Carolina (110).
How does it work?
A candidate must reach at least 15% of the vote statewide, or in individual congressional districts, to qualify for any delegates. A key to Tuesday’s results is how many of the five candidates reach that threshold.
Richmond: (804) 646-5950
Chesterfield: (804) 748-1471
Hanover: (804) 365-6080
Henrico: (804) 501-4347
You also can call the state Department of Elections at (800) 552-9745.
Throughout the day Tuesday, get the latest election news and results at Richmond.com.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch will have later print deadlines to bring you coverage of Tuesday’s election results. That means there’s a chance that Wednesday’s delivery will be later than normal. We appreciate your patience.