by Bennett Aikin
On Tuesday, March 27, the Pennsylvania Senate State Government Committee will hold a public hearing on redistricting, which will feature discussion on four separate bills currently being considered.
Each bill has a similar goal of making the redistricting process for Pennsylvania’s legislative districts and/or its U.S. Congressional districts less biased and more transparent. Each bill also addresses the problem of unfair districts by using some form of a commission structure to make redistricting decisions.
Prime sponsor Boscola.
The most well-known of the bill proposals, S.B. 22 is the redistricting solution being championed by anti-gerrymandering group Fair Districts PA and modeled after the system put in place in California in 2010. It removes redistricting authority from the hands of legislators entirely in favor of a citizens commission.
The bill would create an 11 member citizens commission tasked with redistricting Pennsylvania’s legislative districts and its U.S. Congressional districts. The commission would be comprised of four registered Democrats, four registered Republicans, and three members who are either independent or registered with a third party. Applicants who meet minimum qualification standards would be chosen at random to sit on the commission during the redistricting period following each national census.
All commission discussions would be held in public and the commission’s plan for redistricting would be subject to public hearings across the state before being adopted. All official actions of the commission would require seven votes, including at least one vote from each block of members (Democrat, Republican, and other). The final redistricting plan would have the force of law without intervention of the General Assembly. If the commission would fail to reach consensus on a plan, the Supreme Court would have authority to appoint an expert to create the redistricting plan.
Prime sponsor Leach.
This bill would reform the current system for state legislative reapportionment and expand its authority to also include redistricting of Pennsylvania’s U.S. Congressional districts. Under this bill, elected state politicians would continue to have direct authority over redistricting.
Under this bill, the redistricting commission would include the majority and minority leaders and whips of the state House and Senate, plus a Chairperson appointed by the Supreme Court, for a total of nine commissioners.
A redistricting plan would require approval of seven members and then would require approval from both houses of the General Assembly. If the commission is unable to create a plan that is approved by the General Assembly, the Supreme Court would have authority to choose one of the commissions plans or appoint a redistricting expert to create a new plan.
Prime sponsor Blake.
This bill falls somewhere in the middle of S.B. 22 and S.B. 243 in terms of creating more independence over the redistricting process. Rather than participating on the commission directly, the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate would each appoint two members to the commission who must not be elected officials nor staff people to an elected official.
Prime sponsor Costa.
This bill is unique among the proposals in that it only addresses redistricting of Pennsylvania’s U.S. Congressional districts. It doesn’t address Pennsylvania legislative reapportionment at all, leaving in place the existing commission for that task.
Similar to S.B. 22, the new redistricting commission would be comprised of randomly chosen qualified citizens.
For a table summarizing the above bills, see the document below.