Harrisburg – June 19, 2014 – Pledging to squeeze politics out of the reapportionment process, state Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny and Westmoreland counties) unveiled legislation that would reform how state legislative districts are drawn.
“Given my recent experience with the process, I am convinced that significant changes are needed,” Brewster said. “There clearly was too much political manipulation and too little concern for fair and equitable districts.”
Brewster’s 45th Senatorial District was eliminated in the first redistricting plan approved by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. That plan was later rejected by the state Supreme Court. A subsequent map, produced by the commission and approved by the court, retained the Mon Valley-based seat.
“The process leading to the approval of the new redistricting map should include input from those who are not intimately involved in politics,” Brewster said. “Reapportionment needs to be less political and more democratic.”
The plan offered by Brewster relies on the appointment of a pool of 25 individuals representing Republicans and Democrats and non-affiliated voters. The pool would be required to have race, gender and geographic diversity. The group would be trimmed into a five-member redistricting commission through a selection process managed by academicians from state system and state-related universities. This commission would then redraw the legislative districts using an equal population grid system.
The Commission’s reapportionment map would then be submitted to the Supreme Court for approval following a 30-day public comment period. The maps must meet all case law and constitutional provisions including:
- Districts must be geographically compact and contiguous;
- Communities of interest must be respected;
- Geographic features, as much as practicable, should be used;
- Municipal lines should be used and undivided, if possible;
- Party registration and voting history would be excluded;
- Residential address of incumbent legislators and candidates would not come into play.
“The current structure is fraught with politics that would be eliminated if the commission that I envision is created and used,” Brewster said.
Reapportionment maps are now drawn by a five-member commission that is typically composed of the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate and House with a fifth member (chair) selected by the four leaders. If the leaders cannot agree on the fifth member, the Supreme Court steps in and appoints the chair.
Legislative lines are redrawn every ten years following the completion of the federal census. The intent of the process is to redraw Senate and House districts to equally and accurately reflect Pennsylvania’s population.
Brewster said that his plan not only includes public members drawing the map but that it features a wide-open public comment period to ensure that all views are represented. Members of the Senate and House will have an opportunity to express their views about the districts during this comment period.
The legislation introduced by Brewster is in the form of a constitutional amendment. However, the legislation must pass both houses of the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions and be approved by the electorate before it would go into effect.