Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, announced plans Monday for a slate of bills he described as good government proposals.
Rasoul said he’ll carry legislation in the new year to impose term limits on General Assembly members, adopt a “top-two” primary system and continue the pursuit of an independent redistricting commission.
“We must give more power back to the voters and restore trust in politics,” Rasoul said in a statement. “The current system often results in little competition and choice for citizens, which does not give people the best representation and transparency.”
Rasoul filed the first of the mentioned bills Monday. HJ 18 is a constitutional amendment that would limit lawmakers to 12 years in office.
For the Senate, where a term lasts four years, that translates to a cap of three terms. For the House of Delegates,where members serve two-year stints, it would be six terms.
Rasoul, just elected to his second term in office, said limiting service would get more focus back on the issues rather than the pressure to win favor for re-election.
If the measure is successful, Virginia would become the 16th state to term-limit its legislature, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
HJ 18 doesn’t propose to take effect until 2019. To pass, a constitutional amendment must be approved by the General Assembly twice — with a House of Delegates election in between — and then ratified by the public in a referendum.
Rasoul’s other announced bills are being finalized, according to his office. One will propose moving to a top-two primary system, or a jungle primary, as it’s sometimes known.
Under this approach, all candidates regardless of party run in the same primary. The top-two finishers then become the general election candidates.
Only a handful of states, including California, Washington and Nebraska, use this approach.
Rasoul said he’s come to believe that a top-two helps curb partisan polarization by forcing all candidates to appeal to a broader cross-section of voters.
Candidates will have new incentive to campaign to moderates and build coalitions, he argued.
“Right now, gridlock comes about because there is almost zero incentive to compromise, because most legislators can only lose in a primary,” he said.
The system has its detractors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, including those who worry it can limit choices in general elections if only one party’s candidates advance beyond the primary.
But Rasoul contended it could open up more competition in elections.
In the November elections, only 61 of 140 General Assembly races were contested and — for the first time in at least a decade — no incumbent lost in a general election.
Rasoul, an outspoken advocate for redistricting reform, is also preparing a bill to put redistricting decisions in the hands of an independent commission.
This is a proposal that has won support from the Senate in the past but has gone nowhere in the House, where Republican leaders remain cool to the idea.
The term-limit bill was the third introduced by Rasoul for the 2016 session.
He previously filed HB 53, which would create a path to early release for certain juvenile offenders serving long-term prison sentences.
The bill would apply to juveniles who committed a crime other than homicide after parole was abolished in 1995 and who were sentenced to life in prison or to a term that would keep them incarcerated until after they were 60.
Those inmates would be allowed to petition a panel of judges for a change in sentence at age 35 or after serving 20 years, whichever comes later. Inmates convicted of homicide wouldn’t be eligible for consideration.
An identical bill passed the Senate last year but died in committee in the House. At the time, state authorities said only a handful of inmates — between seven and 13 — would meet the bill’s criteria.
Rasoul also put in an honorary resolution commending Pilgrim Baptist Church in Roanoke on its 100th anniversary.
The new General Assembly session kicks off Jan. 13.