Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
Brush up on your legislative redistricting jargon, because the panel tasked with taking a second stab at new House and Senate districts has finally voted on a preliminary plan.
The 5-member Legislative Reapportionment Commission has cancelled multiple meetings, ever since the Supreme Court threw out the maps it drew last year. But this week, it met, and voted 4-1 to approve new preliminary state House and Senate district boundaries.
The court rejected the panel’s previous plan because it had too many district lines that cut through municipalities and created some districts that were so un-compact as to resemble a wishbone and a crooked finger.
Senate Republican Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said he thinks these maps go far enough to heed the Supreme Court’s instructions.
“I think it’s a substantial step forward,” Pileggi said after the plan was voted on.
How does the latest preliminary plan stack up? The Senate map includes about half as many municipality splits as the rejected plan, but the difference between populations from district to district – the population deviation – is twice as high.
“Mathematically, you can go further,” said Pileggi about the number splits. But he added: “This respects the process which is created by the constitution, to have input by the four caucuses into the process.”
The House map population deviation increased by about two percent, and there are just under half as many splits. House Republican Leader Mike Turzai called it a product of compromise. His Democratic counterpart in the House, Frank Dermody, did not object to the final House map.
But the Senate caucus leaders were not able to come to a similar consensus. The chairman of the panel, state appeals court Judge Stephen McEwen, proposed his own map for the Senate districts. All the panel members voted for that plan but Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, citing lingering concerns about municipality splits.
“We want to move forward with this process,” said Costa. “We’re going to work with the judge, and work with the commission members, to get to a point where we can support a plan. If we get to it, that’s great.”
Under the new maps, two Republican-held seats in Allegheny County would be merged, and a new district would be created in Monroe County in the northeast. The plan also moves five House districts – most of which are moved from the west to the east, to account for population growth.
The new map will get a 30-day public comment period, and a public hearing on May 2nd in Harrisburg. A final vote by the redistricting panel could come as early as mid-May.
Photo: The Legislative Reapportionment Commission takes a brief recess at Thursday's meeting.
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