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Senate redistricting bill amended ahead of final chamber vote

Lobbyists were banned, diversity reinforced and a three-year registration minimum added to the Senate’s prime redistricting bill Monday as it was prepared for a final vote by lawmakers.

The bill, SB 22, would set up a redistricting commission made up of eleven citizens who apply to the Department of State, are vetted, and then picked by majority and minority legislative leaders to draw Pennsylvania’s congressional and state legislative maps.

Tweaks of its language have been ongoing for the past few weeks since it passed committee in late May, as advocates wrestled over how to improve the bill.

Other groups, like Planned Parenthood PA and some state unions, meanwhile have opposed to the bill wholesale since it was amended by Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon).

Some Democratic opposition came out publicly during a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting last week, when six senators voted against it advancing out to the Floor. It received a majority vote nevertheless and is set for a final vote Tuesday.

But representatives of Fair Districts PA, Common Cause PA and the League of Women Voters PA joined with lawmakers in the Capitol ahead of the vote to start the week and make clear that they planned to fight it out for the bill — whether in the rotunda, the cafeteria, the hallways or meeting grounds.

“We will be here until D-Day,” Micah Sims, executive director of Common Cause PA, said during the event.

That date for supporters is a month later than Sims’ historic World War II reference of June 6. Advocates say that the bill, a constitutional amendment, will need to pass by July 6 to meet legal requirements of public notice before November's general election.

One of the lawmakers present was Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery). A longtime redistricting advocate who called gerrymandering an “existential threat to democracy,” Leach had voted against SB 22, which he co-sponsored the original language of, in Appropriations.

But Leach stood with the advocates Monday because he wanted to see an end to the redrawing of maps for political gain.

“I’m putting my hope in it,” he said. “I’m really hoping this bill is amended in such a way that it actually does solve the problem of partisan gerrymandering.”

Originally, the language gave lawmakers no role. Now, the majority and minority leaders of both chambers pick commissioners while the governor also adds in his own choices. All are approved by two-thirds votes of their chamber of origin. The governor’s choices require both chambers’ approval.

The addition of lawmaker input upset supporters of the bill and drew criticism, but Monday’s amendments were planned to address concerns. They add further language requiring that the commission reflect the state’s racial, geographic and gender diversity.

Also, new text limits the splits of existing municipal lines and requires the commission justify each one in writing, bans lobbyists from joining the commission, and requires members have been registered with their party or as an independent for three years before serving.

Before the changes, even redistricting coalition members like Common Cause has wavered, but the changes brought their support back.

However, a separate set of groups including many state progressive activist groups as well as heavy hitters like the NAACP and Planned Parenthood signed onto an op-ed in Penn Live last week that disowned SB 22.

“The bill places the power of appointments and approval with the legislature, and makes this process a part of our very constitution,” the op-ed read. “Advocates of reform should not be placated.”

Their opposition has also fed into distrust among House Democrats for the Senate’s language.

But at least one House Democrat, Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin), showed up at the advocates’ Monday rally.

She cast her support as part of a need for immediate change ahead of the 2020 census and accompanying reapportionment.

“I don’t want the House to be where this pivotal bill in time dies, so I am watching very carefully and making sure we can get this through the House,” Kim said.

One final change to the bill via Monday’s amendments was reintroducing the state Supreme Court and its special master as backup. But rather than letting the court draw a map, the court would bring on a special master to take testimony from lawmakers on the different maps offered by the commission.

The master would then offer suggestions for improvements to existing maps, before the court could choose.

How the Supreme Court’s role would play with House Republicans, who floated impeaching justices for February’s redraw, is unclear. Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Armstrong) expressed skepticism with redistricting because of the recent controversy.

“Our first foray did not sit well with us,” Pyle said.

Still, he thought it was too early to tell how the caucus as a whole would feel.

Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) said Monday that he planned to caucus on the concept as a whole this week and try to find a consensus on the seven different bills now in his own Rules Committee.

Pennsylvania Legislative Service
June 11, 2018

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