ShareThis Page

Citizen board gutted from House bill on Pennsylvania electoral maps

| Wednesday, April 11, 2018, 6:30 p.m.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry
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, or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me