(The Center Square) – A Pennsylvania lawmaker wants to amend the state constitution to create a new citizens commission charged with drawing fresh legislative maps every decade.
The House State Government Committee approved House Bill 2207 on Monday in a 15-10 party line vote to create a Citizens’ Legislative Reapportionment Commission to head the process for creating new state House and Senate districts after each census.
State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, committee chair and the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation “will take politicians who have a stake in redistricting out of the reapportionment process and would, for the first time ever, make it a purely citizens’ initiative.”
Democrats on the committee disagreed.
Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, minority chair of the committee, tweeted, “Make no mistake: what my colleagues across the aisle are proposing here is a partisan commission, not a transparent independent commission it’s falsely labeled as. The redistricting process resulted in fairer maps than anyone has seen in decades, and this is their retaliation.”
The Legislative Reapportionment Commission voted 3-2 last month to adopt new state House and Senate maps Republicans have criticized as overly favorable to Democrats. The commission is comprised of the Senate majority and minority leaders, House majority and minority leaders and Chair Mark Nordenberg, the former chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh who was appointed by the Supreme Court, which consists of five Democrats and two Republicans.
Grove penned a letter last week to Nordenberg, who voted with Democrats, criticizing the process for selecting the maps and to request the creator of the maps, Dr. Jonathan Cervas, publicly testify about the process.
The commission’s state House map pits a dozen Republican incumbents against each other, while only two Democrats face the same challenge. Independent analysis by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project for the Philadelphia Inquirer found the House map would shift from 118 Republican and 85 Democratic districts in the current map to 104 Republican and 99 Democratic districts in the new map.
The same analysis found the state Senate map proposed by the commission would shift somewhat to Republicans.
The citizen commission proposed in Grove’s HB 2207 would consist of 11 residents, including eight members selected at large by majority and minority leadership in the General Assembly. Two other members would be selected by a vote of counties, and the final member would be selected by Commonwealth Court judges.
Members and spouses must not have held public office, a state or federal job, registered as a lobbyist, been nominated for office, or served as a staff member for politicians or political committees for at least five years before serving.
The General Assembly would be bound to adopt maps created by the citizen commission, which would need seven votes to approve.
“This bill would ensure decennial reapportionment is nonpartisan and puts residents’ voices ahead of party politics,” Grove said.
Democrats claim the citizen commission would tilt power toward Republicans, who dominate Pennsylvania counties and Commonwealth Court judges.
HB 2207 would amend the state constitution, a process that requires lawmakers to approve the bill in two consecutive legislative sessions before it would be put to voters for approval.