There is an answer to the "next to impossible" task of neutralizing partisanship in the reapportionment process.It is SB 69, which I introduced and which received bipartisan committee approval over a year ago. It provides that congressional redistricting will be done by the same non-partisan Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC) process that has redrawn state Senate and House seats since 1971.
Unfortunately, it has been blocked since last year in a classic example of the desire for perfection being the enemy of the good.
SB 69 would prevent the butchery of 2002 that chopped Berks County into four congressional districts and hacked Reading into three as part of a plan by Republicans in Washington to defeat Democratic congressional candidates in Pennsylvania.
The plan was bullied past Democratic objections because a party in Pennsylvania that controls the governor's office, the House and Senate, as Republicans did in 2002, has few restrictions to its power to redraw the lines of congressional districts however it pleases.
Under U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the majority can even makes its decision based on bald political considerations, as Republicans did in 2002.
My proposal, which the state Senate Committee on State Government unanimously approved, would stop this by including congressional redistricting under the LRC process.
The LRC, in use here since 1971 to redraw state Senate and House seats, was designed by the Constitutional Convention of 1967-1968 to end partisan-ship and to eliminate the power of a legislative majority over remapping state Senate and House seats.
It did this by giving both parties equal representation on the five-member commission, with the tie-breaking fifth member either agreed upon by the others or appointed by the state Supreme Court if they do not agree, and by removing the legislature and governor from an approval role.
And it works.
In 2002, the legislature took most of the year to redraw just 19 Congressional districts in a process that involved multiple pieces of legislation that not only stole legislative time and attention from other issues, but also led to costly legal suits that reached all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and resulted in the first plan being struck down.
Similarly, among significant concerns for proposals that have stalled action on SB 69, the processes in Arizona and Iowa, from which they are drawn, have in the case of Arizona resulted in litigation since the 2000 census that is still unresolved and already has cost more than $6 million to redraw only 30 seats; and in the case of Iowa, gives the ultimate authority over both state legislative and congressional districts to the governor and legislative majority.
By way of comparison, the LRC took two months and with no significant controversy redrew 203 House and 50 Senate districts.
It is worth mentioning, as well, that a purported "study" listing Pennsylvania as one of the most notoriously gerrymandered states dealt not at all with the work of the LRC, but instead referred only to the drawing of congressional boundaries and to Philadelphia city council seats.
Adding congressional districting to the LRC's present responsibilities also would make Pennsylvania the only state to settle both congressional and legislative redistricting in a non-partisan way.
Attention misdirected to plans that have not worked elsewhere or that cannot be made to work here has, unfortunately, only served to excuse a neglect of SB 69 that will be fatal if it is not immediately corrected.
With time almost expired in this session to pass a necessary constitutional amendment, that neglect greatly increases the likelihood of no progress being made toward achieving a fully non-partisan process until children born in 2002 are old enough to vote.