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Groups seek transparency in redrawing of political boundaries

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Friday, Jan. 14, 2011

HARRISBURG -- The ink had barely dried on proposals from reform groups for openness in legislative redistricting when a top Senate Republican leader announced that change could be on the way.

Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, and Democracy Rising PA yesterday called for "transparency and public participation" in the Legislature's redrawing of state and congressional district boundaries.

Their long-range goal is an independent commission to take the decision-making out of lawmakers' hands in the once-a-decade drawing of district maps based on population changes.

"The biggest political power play of the decade is about to get under way in Pennsylvania -- and it is, perhaps, the most self-serving and least transparent process of state government," said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause of Pennsylvania.

"Republicans favor plans good for Republicans and Democrats favor plans good for Democrats," said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County.

During an interview that followed a news conference by reform groups, Pileggi said he is proposing a website with voter data, past district maps and proposed maps when time allows.

The League of Women Voters earlier had said it was important for hearings, meeting transcripts and proposed and revised maps to be posted online.

"We had certainly planned to take advantage of technology that didn't exist 10 years ago for a website with data," Pileggi said.

The league and Common Cause sought public hearings on redistricting. Olivia Thorne, league president, said such hearings should take place before and after a preliminary map is proposed.

"It's certainly my intent to have multiple public hearings," Pileggi said.

Tim Potts, cofounder of Democracy Rising, put aside his usual skepticism, pointing out the Legislature's leadership is different from the last redistricting in 2001. "I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt," Potts said.

The new map must be adopted by the four floor leaders of the House and Senate plus a fifth person they will choose. If they cannot reach an agreement, the decision is left to the state Supreme Court, said Erik Arneson, Pileggi's director of communication and policy.

Redistricting is like any bill -- it needs approval by both chambers and the signature of the governor.

Republicans control both chambers and the governor's mansion for the first time in nearly a decade.

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