Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
The panel that failed in its first effort to redraw state House and Senate district lines has a new preliminary plan up for public comment. Some of the more high-profile testifiers at the Wednesday hearing agreed on one thing: the latest reapportionment effort favors incumbent lawmakers over citizens.
State Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati objected to a decision to move the district of a senator leaving the Legislature instead of a district that has lost more population.
“Elevating the consideration of retirements in nothing more than a backdoor way of protecting incumbency – pure and simple,” said Scarnati. “Now, I don’t want to see any sitting senator lose his or her job, but considering retirements superior to population shifts is misguided, and possibly in violation of article 2, section 16 of the constitution.”
Scarnati said he’d like to see a final redistricting map move the seat of Democratic Sen. Jim Brewster from its spot in Allegheny County to the northeastern part of the state. The preliminary plan merges the Allegheny region seats of retiring Sen. John Pippy and Sen. Jane Orie, who was recently convicted for corruption crimes and will soon be sentenced. It then takes the merged district and moves it to the northeast. “It defies logic that the commission would take the region’s fastest-growing district, the 40th, and move it to the east,” said Scarnati.
Amanda Holt, the Lehigh County piano teacher who successfully challenged the last redistricting plan, said the latest effort violates the state constitution and laws designed to make districts equal in population. “This revised plan, rather than first serving the citizens and upholding our constitution, needlessly continues to sacrifice our constitution on the altar of incumbent preferences,” said Holt.
The first legislative redistricting plan got tossed out by the state Supreme Court for dividing too many counties and municipalities, and for including districts that were not sufficiently compact and contiguous.
Barry Kauffman with Common Cause Pennsylvania, the government accountability advocacy group, said the maps are better this time around – with fewer counties and municipalities unnecessarily split by Senate and House district boundaries. “However, the plan submitted by citizen Amanda Holt and referenced by the Supreme Court’s opinion has created a benchmark for constitutional compliance from which the current plan still falls far short,” Kauffman said.
A second public hearing on the latest plan is scheduled for May 7. Sen. Brewster, whose seat has been singled out to be picked up and moved to the east, has the first 10 minutes of testimony.
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