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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Senate leader pledges openness in redistricting

| Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011

HARRISBURG — The ink had barely dried today on reform groups' ideas for handling legislative redistricting when a top Senate Republican leader announced that some of the proposals advocating for openness and public input already are under way.

Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, and Democracy Rising PA called for "transparency and public participation" in the Legislature's redrawing of state and congressional district boundaries. Their long-range goal is some type of independent commission to take the decision making out of lawmakers' hands. But because the process is gearing up, the groups highlighted things they believe can be changed now 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 direcor 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. But it must be done within a "constitutional framework" and in accordance with federal Voting Rights Act criteria, he said.

Pileggi said in an interview after the reform groups' news conference that he is proposing a website that will include voter data, past district maps, meetings on redistricting, and proposed maps when time allows. The League of Women Voters cited the need for Internet posting of hearings, meeting transcripts, and proposed and revised plans.

"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 also called for a series of public hearings on redistricting. Olivia Thorne, league president, said such hearings should take place before and after a preliminary plan is proposed.

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

The legislative plan must be adopted by a five-member commission made up of the four floor leaders of the House and Senate plus a fifth member they will choose or, if they cannot reach agreement, the state Supreme Court will choose, said Erik Arneson, Pileggi's director of communication and policy.

The congressional plan is like any bill that needs approval by both chambers and is signed by the governor.

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

Pileggi will take his proposal for a website to the other four members of the commission.

Pileggi questioned how independent any appointed commission can be and added, "It is inherently a political process and no less authority than the (U.S.) Supreme Court has said that."

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