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Senate Approves Changes to Redistricting Process

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The Senate has passed legislation that changes Pennsylvania’s redistricting process, according to Senator Joe Scarnati (R-25), who strongly supported the measure.

“Today’s Senate passage of Senate Bill 22 marks an historic day in our Commonwealth,” Scarnati said.  “Senate Bill 22 does what proponents of changes to Pennsylvania’s redistricting process have continually emphasized that they want – ‘fairness’.  This bill takes power away from government and puts that power back in the hands of the voters.”

Senate Bill 22 was passed by a vote of 35 to 14 and creates the Independent Redistricting Commission made up of 11 Pennsylvania citizens who would be responsible for drawing the boundaries of Pennsylvania Legislative and Pennsylvania Congressional districts. Elected officials, candidates for public office, lobbyists and legislative staff would be prohibited from serving on the Commission.

The legislation also changes the way that appellate court judges are elected. In current practice, members of the state Supreme Court, Superior Court and Commonwealth Court are elected via a statewide vote. Senate Bill 22 allows the Independent Redistricting Commission to divide the state into judicial districts to ensure a broader range of regional interests are represented on Pennsylvania’s highest courts.

“Rural Pennsylvanians deserve to have an equal voice to individuals who live in suburban and urban areas of our Commonwealth,” Scarnati said.  “Our judicial branch of government should not be made up primarily of individuals from big cities – it should fairly serve all regions of our Commonwealth.”

Scarnati explained that because the legislation would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution, it must be approved in two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters in a statewide referendum.  Voters would be presented with two separate ballot questions, one question for if the Independent Redistricting Commission should draw Pennsylvania Legislative and Congressional districts and a second question for if the Independent Redistricting Commission should divide the state into judicial districts.

“It is time that we let the citizens of Pennsylvania have more control in making crucial decisions for our Commonwealth,” Scarnati stated.  “This bill is a great achievement and gives voters the final say on how Legislative, Congressional and Judicial districts are drawn.  I am hopeful that Senate Bill 22 will receive swift consideration in the House.”

Senator Minority Leader Jay Costa had asked for amendments to the bill to clarify who could and could not sit on the commission – barring lobbyists and staffs and relatives of legislators, for example – and that amendment was successfully added.  But a second amendment was added by Senate Republicans that would call for judges in the state’s court system to also be elected to represent districts, as opposed to the current statewide elections.
Senator Costa sees this as a “hijacking” of the redistricting bill as a way to retaliate against the current PA Supreme Court, who ordered a congressional district map favoring Republicans to be thrown out and replaced.
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