As of Wednesday, House and Senate members of the conference committee on redistricting had worked out what look like tenable solutions for Bennington County House seats.
On the Senate side, lawmakers are proposing a breakup of the Chittenden County district.
Rep. Ron Hubert, a Republican from Milton, is floating a proposal (a.k.a. Option 7) that would divide up Chittenden County, which is now the largest state senate district in the country, into two three-member districts.
The “inner city” district, which has the highest population density in the state, would consist of Winooski, Burlington and South Burlington.
All the other municipalities in Chittenden County that surround that inner core area would be a separate district. (With the exception of Bolton, which would be part of Washington County, and Huntington and Buel’s Gore, which would be in Addison County.)
Each new district would have three members representing about 68,000 voters, according to the map.
Hubert said with Sen. Hinda Miller, D-Chittenden, retiring this year, the Legislature has a rare opportunity to change the district.
As for the Senate conferees’ take on the plan? Hubert said, “I don’t think they’re too pleased with the idea, but at some point in time this is going to cause the map to be challenged.”
Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, a vocal opponent of Hubert’s map agreed that something had to be done. He said he’d prefer to create two three-member districts, which he said would entail eliminating the Lamoille County Senate district altogether in order to create a new three-member district in Franklin County.
“We’re avoiding the discussion (about Chittenden County) and at some point the House and Senate has to deal with this,” Sears said. “We keep going around the edges and we’ve got to make a serious decision as the population increases in the Northwest.”
Bennington House districts
The Senate had reverted the Bennington County House district maps to existing lines, which led to a deviation rate of 24 percent statewide.
The Vermont GOP has said it will challenge any deviation rate over 18 percent in court.
Sears’ plan, as Hubert put it, is “an automatic challenge for anyone inside or outside the state.”
Hubert came up with a plan that rearranges the House districts in Bennington and brings the deviation rate down to 18 percent. Under the plan, the town of Manchester becomes part of a two-seat district with Sandgate, Arlington and Sunderland.
Rep. Jeff Wilson, D-Manchester, offered to join with the other towns because he thought it would help solve the problem of keeping the deviation levels, which increased because of a decline in county population, at acceptable levels. He also sought select board approval of the idea.
Hubert’s plan restores Rep. Oliver Olsen’s district, which in one iteration of the map lost the town of Winhall. It also fixes the split between Rupert and Pawlet and puts the two towns back together.
Sears was the only member of the conference committee who rejected the proposal in a straw poll on Wednesday.
“I still believe it’s best for Bennington County to leave it as it is, but if that’s not possible, that’s less objectionable than some other plans,” Sears said.
The conferees plan to meet again on Thursday.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:56 a.m. Correction: The Burlington “inner city” district includes Winooski not Colchester.