Political hypocrisy is rarely in short supply in Harrisburg, but a recent move by the Senate State Government Committee deals it in spades.
While placing some guardrails on how the state’s congressional districts will be redrawn, the Republican majority removed virtually all of the proposals for transparency when it comes to how state legislative districts are determined.
The assurances from legislative leaders about transparency and fairness in the once-in-a-decade process to redraw district lines have given way once more to political expediency. And the public again would have a limited say in how state lawmakers shape their own districts.
The bill proposed by Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, included proposals sought by anti-gerrymandering groups such as FairDistricts PA. Having lost the battle in the Legislature to have congressional and legislative districts drawn by an independent citizens commission, the group focused instead on measures that opened up the process to the public.
Ms. Boscola’s bill included requirements for public meetings and the allowance for public comment on how districts should be formed. But an amendment by state Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, removed all proposed reforms to the legislative redistricting process while keeping many of them for congressional redistricting. The bill with Mr. Argall’s amendment passed the State Government Committee on a near party-line vote.
Mr. Argall offered a rather dubious rationale for his changes: He said the bill had a better chance of approval if it focused solely on congressional redistricting rather than the legislative seats as well.
But the congressional redistricting already has some built-in checks and balances, namely that the Republican Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will have to agree on the new map, which will include the loss of one congressional seat this year.
The bill would require both the House and Senate State Government committees to hold at least four public hearings around the state on congressional redistricting and to develop a system for sharing public comments, as well as proposed citizen-submitted maps. The committees would also have to explain how the proposed maps follow state and federal criteria.
State Republican leaders recently unveiled a website for constituents to weigh in on congressional redistricting. They can submit comments and eventually submit their own proposed congressional district maps. There are also plans for a series of regional public hearings.
All of which is a step forward from the behind-closed-doors deal-making that went on previously in the state’s redistricting process. A decade ago, Republican lawmakers revealed and passed a new congressional map in less than two weeks with no public comment.
But the same requirements for congressional districts approved by the committee should have been included in the drawing of state House and Senate districts. Instead, those decisions would be left to a five-person commission of legislative leaders and an appointed outside chairman. It amounts to lawmakers retaining control of the decision-making when it comes to shaping their own districts.
If lawmakers want to do what is right in how district lines are drawn, any proposed requirements should apply to both congressional and legislative districts.
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette