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Pennsylvania

Citizen board gutted from House bill on Pennsylvania electoral maps

Wes Venteicher
| Wednesday, April 11, 2018, 6:30 p.m.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry
Submitted
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, led an effort Wednesday to gut a bill that would have created an independent commission of citizens to draw electoral maps instead of leaving the process to legislators.

Metcalfe, chairman of the House State Government Committee, called a surprise morning meeting and introduced an amendment to the proposal that completely changed what the legislation would do.

Instead of creating an 11-person commission of voters from the two main parties plus the lesser-known parties, as House Bill 722 had proposed, Metcalfe's amendment creates a six-member panel of legislators.

Four of them would most likely come from the majority party. Five votes would be required to approve new maps.

“It's very much constructed right now to keep one party in power,” said Carol Kuniholm, chairwoman of Fair Districts PA, a bipartisan group that supported the citizen commission proposal.

Under the current system, the full Legislature participates in drawing congressional maps after the Census every 10 years, while a five-person panel made up mostly of legislators draws the maps for state legislative districts.

The state Supreme Court ruled in February that the congressional district map was unfairly drawn to benefit Republicans. Republicans were the majority party in 2011 when the Legislature drew the map that the court ruled unconstitutional.

The court instituted its own map after the General Assembly and Gov. Tom Wolf failed to agree on a new map after the court's ruling.

The new map is in place for the May 15 primaries and fall elections.

Republicans accused the state court's majority-Democratic justices of overstepping their bounds, and unsuccessfully appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and a federal panel of judges.

Metcalfe's proposal would remove existing provisions in the legislative map-drawing process that allow for appeals to the state Supreme Court, routing challenges to the Commonwealth Court.

“The amended House Bill 722 would ensure that neutral, locally focused criteria would remain the only standard by which a map could be judged, preventing any activist Supreme court from tyrannically subverting these criteria to its own preferred partisan agenda,” Metcalfe said in a statement.

On Wednesday, the Democratic leader of the House Government Committee proposed rescheduling the meeting after the committee viewed the amendment. That proposal failed on a party-line vote. Then Metcalfe's proposal passed on a party-line vote, including support from state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth, who is running for Congress in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

“This shows how far Republican leaders like Daryl Metcalfe will go to try to cling to power by scrapping a bipartisan reform bill and taking Republican gerrymandering to a whole new level to lock in a permanent majority,” House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, said in a statement. “The people of Pennsylvania are demanding fair elections, and Democrats are listening.”

Metcalfe's proposal, like the proposal to create an independent commission, would require an amendment to the state constitution, which requires support from the state House and the state Senate two years in a row.

Another proposal to create an independent commission of citizens was introduced in the Senate, as Senate Bill 22.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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