May 2, 2012 | By | Posted in Legislature

Revised PA district maps still have ‘excessive divisions’

Commission hears criticism from both sides of the aisle
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Redistricting crusader Amanda Holt told Pennsylvania’s reapportionment commission Wednesday to stop trying to redefine the English language.

When the state constitution says counties and municipalities should be split “when absolutely necessary,” it means exactly that, she said.
The revised plan for new state House and Senate districts that was opened for public comment Wednesday contains "excessive divisions on a massive scale" even after the state Supreme Court ordered the commission to redraw the maps with fewer splits, Holt said. 
The revised proposals contain about 50 percent fewer divisions, but Holt's analysis showed 32 unnecessary divisions in the state Senate plan and 205 on the new House map.
Holt testified, along with about two dozen other public officials and residents, at the hearing of the commission, charged with redrawing the state House and Senate districts every 10 years to reflect population shifts shown by the census.
The Legislative Reapportionment Commission consists of Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester; Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny; House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny; House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny; and retired Superior Court Judge Stephen McEwen, who was appointed by the state Supreme Court as chairman.
Afterward, Pileggi said the commission’s job requires more than simple mathematics.
Pileggi said the revised plans were based on the guidance to reduce the number of splits, though the Supreme Court did not provide objective requirements.
The state Supreme Court rejected the commission’s first proposed maps because too many counties and municipalities were split in violation of the constitution. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice Ron Castille pointed to Holt’s alternative proposal as “powerful evidence” that it was possible to draw a better map.
This time, the commission drew a map with 50 percent fewer splits, but Holt took that plan to the woodshed, and she was not alone.
Marcel Groen, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee, said the county has enough population for three state Senate districts, yet it is proposed to be divided among seven different districts, none of which are entirely in the county.
Laura Lavin, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, a nonprofit that advocates for fair and transparent state politics, said the revised districts were more compact, but less compact than the Holt plan, which also made fewer municipal and county splits.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle also criticized the commission’s latest proposal.
Senate President Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said the commission’s decision to move the district of state Sen. Jane Orie, R-Allegheny, to the Poconos was a mistake because that district had gained population, while four Democratic-held districts in the same region had a net decrease in population.
Orie's seat will be vacant because she recently was convicted on charges of using taxpayer resources to help a political campaign, and she will have to resign her seat at sentencing.
The strategy of moving an empty district was an “incumbency protection plan,” Scarnati said.
State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, said various districts on the new state Senate map were drawn to perpetuate Republican control of the General Assembly.
But the commission heard positive reviews as well. Carolyn Comitta, mayor of West Chester, thanked the commission for putting the entire borough in a single state House district on the revised plan, after the original plan had divided the borough between two districts.
But on the whole, testifiers Wednesday agreed with Holt, who received an ovation when she finished her remarks to the commission.
The commission will hold another hearing Monday here for additional public comment on the revised maps.
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