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Can we learn from other states on redistricting?: Mike Folmer

Posted 4/18/18

My “Promise to Pennsylvania” calls for strict adherence to Article III of the state Constitution on how legislation is passed. It’s why I’ve insisted as chairman of the Senate …

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Can we learn from other states on redistricting?: Mike Folmer

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My “Promise to Pennsylvania” calls for strict adherence to Article III of the state Constitution on how legislation is passed. It’s why I’ve insisted as chairman of the Senate State Government Committee to publicly vet legislation prior to voting.

As redistricting changes have long been a goal of mine, I’ve wanted for some time to hold a series of hearings on proposed redistricting bills referred to the committee. However, lawsuits over the 2011 maps forced me to put these hearings on hold.

With the conclusion of these court challenges, I was both pleased and relieved to convene the first public hearing on proposals to change our redistricting process. I hope those who watched found it as informative as I did.

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution as amended by the 14th Amendment establishes the requirement to apportion congressional districts and gives the states authority to establish the qualifications. Article II, Sections 16 and 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution establish the number of House and Senate Members for the General Assembly and the manner in which those district lines are to be established.

These provisions are why I joined a lawsuit to block the congressional maps drawn by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. I believe the court exceeded its constitutional authority — even though I voted against the 2011 maps.

I voted against the 2011 maps. I repeat this because of criticisms I’ve received from some saying I supported the 2011 maps — I didn’t.

Yes, I have been critical of the court because I believe if we fail to follow our rules of law – the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions – our constitutional republic doesn’t work and the judiciary becomes a political weapon.

I don’t believe having one person draw election lines as the court did is good public policy — especially when there was no public explanation of how the maps were redrawn, no public hearings were held, and no recourse was given to anyone to challenge the court’s maps. Hopefully, this isn’t the type of reform people have talked about with me.

There’s a reason why both the US and the Pennsylvania Constitutions both begin with an enumeration of the powers and responsibilities of the Legislature: Article I of the US Constitution and Article II of the Pennsylvania Constitution (Article I is our Bill of Rights).

Several bills to change the reapportionment process have been referred to the Senate State Government Committee dealing with how the General Assembly’s election lines are drawn and/or how congressional maps are determined.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, six states use independent commissions to draw legislative redistricting maps. One state (Iowa) has legislative staff draw the maps for their legislative districts.

Of the six states relying upon independent commissions to draw maps: Alaska uses a 5-member independent commission, Arizona also uses a 5-member commission, California has a 14-member commission, Idaho a 6-member independent commission, Montana a 5-member commission, and Washington state also has a 5-member commission.

NCSL also notes 13 states have commissions to draw state legislative districts, including Pennsylvania.

Five states appoint advisory commissions to help advise their legislatures about where state legislative district lines should be drawn — these states include Iowa, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

At the next public hearing, I hope to learn more about how other states do redistricting and additional possible ways Pennsylvania might change its process. That hearing will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 24 in Hearing Room One of the North Office Building. I look forward to continued discussion of these much needed and long overdue reforms.

Mike Folmer is a Republican member of the Pennsylvania Senate whose 48th District includes Middletown. His Capitol office telephone number is 717-787-5708.