CHARLESTON - The West Virginia Legislature could consider putting the redistricting of the state's representative districts into the hands of an independent commission.
Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, introduced a resolution (SCR69) this week to have the Joint Committee on Government and Finance study the possibility of having an independent body take over the task of redistricting.
''An independent commission is a more equitable body to invest the responsibility of redistricting,'' the resolution states.
The Legislature approved a redistricting plan last summer by nearly unanimous and bipartisan margins. The plan would have shifted Mason County from the 2nd District to the 3rd District and left the 1st District untouched.
After a lawsuit was brought by county officials in the Eastern Panhandle, a panel of three federal judges ruled, in a 2-1 decision, the Legislature's plan violates the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause because the state's three congressional districts aren't as equal in population as they should have been.
Because the first congressional redistricting plan was invalidated, the first two weeks of the Legislature's regular session were taken up with whether the state would have to develop another plan.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the judges' decision last week and the districts for the time being will stay as they were approved by the Legislature in August.
Lawmakers felt the process of redrawing the representative districts had become too political.
''Redistricting is an inherently political process,'' the resolution said. ''The welfare of the citizens of the state and their local communities of interest must be placed ahead of any political party or individual.''
The resolution said several states have given independent commissions the primary responsibility of drawing reasonable and impartial congressional and legislative boundaries in an effort to have on open, democratic and transparent process, encourage citizen participation and avoid partisan gerrymandering.
Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, said she felt the original joint committee that came up with the original redistricting plan did a good job in considering options and debating the issue.
''I don't know if the people will want an independent commission to do it or if they want their legislators to do it,'' she said. ''The jury is still out.''
Sen. David Nohe, R-Wood, said the idea of an independent commission sounds good, but he would have to study legislation eventually presented in great detail.
''It sounds good,'' he said. ''It will be important for the commission to take the politics out of it.''
In doing that, who the commission members will be, how they are chosen and the fairness to the political parties will have to be looked at to make sure a "non-biased body" is being created, Nohe said.
''On the surface, the idea has promise,'' he said.
If the resolution is approved, the Joint Committee on Government and Finance will report to the regular session of the Legislature on its findings, conclusions and recommendations, together with drafts of legislation necessary to effectuate its recommendations.
The resolution would have to be adopted by both houses before the Saturday midnight deadline of the regular legislative session.