Re­port: Have group re­draw Pa. dis­tricts

Wolf com­mis­sion calls for 11-per­son panel to give leg­is­la­tors op­tions

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Mark Scol­foro

A com­mis­sion set up by Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf rec­om­mended Thurs­day that Pennsylvan­ia re­draw con­gres­sional and leg­isla­tive dis­tricts through an 11-per­son ap­pointed group that would pro­vide a set of op­tions that state law­mak­ers would choose from.

The re­port by the Pennsylvan­ia Redis­trict­ing Re­form Com­mis­sion said peo­ple want lim­its on the role of politi­cians in draw­ing maps and take a dim view of the cur­rent sys­tem’s em­pha­sis on gain­ing par­ti­san ad­van­tage.

Repub­li­can leg­isla­tive lead­ers opted not to send ap­pointees to the com­mis­sion and have pre­vi­ously ac­cused Wolf of grand­stand­ing about redis­trict­ing.

House Repub­li­can spokesman Mike Straub re­sponded coolly to the com­mis­sion’s re­port.

“We will take into con­sid­er­a­tion pro­pos­als to mod­ern­ize the cur­rent process, but an 11-mem­ber panel will never be as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the com­mon­wealth as 253 leg­is­la­tors and the gover­nor is, nor will an 11-mem­ber panel al­low for as much trans­parency and opportunit­y for in­put as the amend­ment process cur­rently pro­vides,” Straub said.

Wolf’s spokesman said the gover­nor still sup­ports hav­ing redis­trict­ing done by a cit­i­zens’ com­mis­sion.

After the Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity on the state Supreme Court re­drew con­gres­sional maps last year, the Repub­li­cans’ 13-to-5 ad­van­tage in the state’s del­e­ga­tion to Wash­ing­ton be­came a 9-to-9 tie as a re­sult of the No­vem­ber elec­tion.

The com­mis­sion said many state res­i­dents be­lieve the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is “built to serve the in­ter­ests of those who work in it, not theirs.”

“Penn­syl­va­ni­ans who of­fered in­put to the com­mis­sion say they yearn for a fairer redis­trict­ing process — one that they can un­der­stand and trust; a process that makes de­ci­sions by con­sen­sus and by a set of sim­ple and trans­par­ent rules, rather than by nar­row par­ti­san ad­van­tage,” the re­port said.

The public wants com­pact, con­tigu­ous dis­tricts that min­i­mize break­ing up coun­ties, cities, town­ships, bor­oughs and wards, the panel con­cluded.

The com­mis­sion rec­om­mended maps be drawn by the group of qual­i­fied peo­ple, cho­sen by the gover­nor and leg­isla­tive lead­ers.

It would sub­mit three maps to cho­sen from by ei­ther the Gen­eral Assem­bly as a whole or a body that leg­is­la­tors would des­ig­nate.

The maps would be de­signed to min­i­mize the num­ber of ju­ris­dic­tions that are split and to “en­sure that di­verse pop­u­la­tions across the com­mon­wealth have a rea­son­able abil­ity to have their po­lit­i­cal voices heard,” the com­mis­sion said.

It also would pre­vent the map draw­ers from con­sid­er­ing the home ad­dress of any in­di­vid­ual, the po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion of reg­is­tered voters or pre­vi­ous elec­tion re­sults — un­less re­quired by fed­eral law.

Pennsylvan­ia will re­draw con­gres­sional and state leg­isla­tive maps as a re­sult of the 2020 cen­sus.

Un­like many other states, Pennsylvan­ia is closely di­vided po­lit­i­cally, with Democrats hold­ing the gov­er­nor­ship and other statewide of­fices, and the Supreme Court, while Repub­li­cans have firm ma­jori­ties in both cham­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture.

The con­gres­sional maps go through as leg­is­la­tion, re­quir­ing ap­proval in the House and Se­nate and the gover­nor’s sig­na­ture. But the state leg­isla­tive maps are drawn by a five­mem­ber group, with ap­pointees from the mi­nor­ity and ma­jor­ity lead­ers of the House and Se­nate. If they can’t agree on a fifth mem­ber — and they have not been able to — the Supreme Court ap­points it.

Last June, dur­ing the pre­vi­ous leg­isla­tive ses­sion, Se­nate Repub­li­cans pushed through a bill on nearly party lines to amend the state con­sti­tu­tion to have lines drawn by a com­mis­sion with mem­bers picked by top law­mak­ers and the gover­nor, re­quir­ing fi­nal ap­proval by su­per­ma­jori­ties of law­mak­ers. It also would have al­tered the elec­tion of ap­pel­late judges to be done by dis­trict, rather than statewide.

“It took nine months to come up with what we passed a year ago — an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion,” said Se­nate GOP spokes­woman Jen­nifer Kocher.

“At first glance, the only difference seems to be tweak­ing the strict re­quire­ments es­tab­lished by the Se­nate to pre­vent un­due po­lit­i­cal influence from taint­ing the process.”

That bill and other redis­trict­ing pro­pos­als died when the two-year ses­sion con­cluded at year’s end. At this point it’s un­likely any con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment could be en­acted in time to af­fect the re­draw­ing that will oc­cur after 2020.

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