New Pennsylvania district maps have share of critics

Posted: May 04, 2012

HARRISBURG — Go back to the drawing board.

That was the message from a slate of critics opposed to the latest version of the new House and Senate legislative district maps under consideration by a state commission.

Nearly 30 people, among them eight lawmakers, leaders of large and small municipalities, Democrats and Republicans, lined up to give the Legislative Reapportionment Commission an earful Wednesday at a hearing to consider maps redrawn after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed the original ones.

The bipartisan five-member commission, composed of the leaders of the four legislative caucuses and an appointed chairman, is charged with devising new boundaries for the 203 House and 50 Senate districts based on the 2010 census. In a 4-1 vote in April, it gave preliminary approval to the revised district maps.

The commission has two weeks to consider any additional changes it might make to the maps before sending them back to the Supreme Court for final approval.

The high court threw out the original plan in January, saying the proposed maps would have split too many municipalities between legislative districts or created meandering districts. The maps had aimed to meet a constitutional requirement that all districts be rebalanced every decade to account for population shifts determined by census.

Those testifying Wednesday said districts were still split unnecessarily, lacked compactness, or were not contiguous.

Rep. Timothy Briggs (D., Montgomery) testified that the new map carves Lower Merion four ways even though its population remained the same, and he said he believed it was done to protect a Republican district.

“It is clear in this proposed map that Lower Merion residents are being sacrificed, being played as pawns for political gain,” Briggs told the commission. “Just because this commission divided Lower Merion Township four ways in all three plans it adopted in this post-2010 census redistricting process, it does not make it reasonable or right. I believe the Supreme Court had Lower Merion in mind when it rejected the previous map in January.”

The mayors of West Chester and Phoenixville also testified against the maps as unnecessarily dividing their communities.

Senate President Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) said the latest map of Senate districts was built on “faulty premises and misguided principles.” He specifically took issue with moving a Republican seat from Allegheny County to a Democratic region in Monroe County. “It defies logic to move the region’s fastest-growing Senate district to the east.”

Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584, aworden@phillynews.com, or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.

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