Va. House speaker derails GOP redistricting plan

By BOB LEWIS | February 6, 2013 | 10:30 PM EST

House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, smiles after he declared the redistricting bill from the Senate improper and should not be considered during the floor session of the House of Delegates at the State Capitol in Richmond, Va. Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. The speaker's procedural ruling clears away a major standing provocation to the Senate's 20 Democrats. They had threatened to deny the Senate's 20 Republicans the 21st vote they would need to advance key legislation this year, including transportation funding and the state budget. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Republican speaker of the Virginia House has ruled against a GOP-backed redistricting plan that was muscled through a divided Virginia Senate while a veteran black Democratic lawmaker was attending President Barack Obama's inauguration.

Speaker Bill Howell announced Wednesday that the Senate-approved amendment redrawing state Senate district lines was not germane, or relevant, to a bill making technical changes to state House districts,

On Jan. 21, Senate Republicans blindsided Democrats when they took advantage of the absence of Democratic Sen. Henry Marsh of Richmond to push through a plan creating a new black-majority Senate district and effectively strengthening Republicans' chances in other districts. Marsh was attending the inauguration in Washington.

The move set off a firestorm among Senate Democrats, who'd threatened to deny the Senate's 20 Republicans the necessary 21st vote to advance key initiatives.