On April 3, Senate Bill 22 was reintroduced by Senators Boscola and Folmer and a bipartisan list of cosponsors. The bill includes amendments negotiated among legislators in the late spring of 2018, minus the Aument judicial region amendment.
Two days later, the bill was scheduled for a vote in the Senate State Government Committee on Tuesday, April 9. After short statements by Senators Folmer, Williams and Boscola, the bill was put to a vote and passed from committee by a vote of 6 to 4.
While we appreciate the Senate interest in redistricting reform and the years of work on this effort by Senator Boscola, Fair Districts PA does not support SB 22 in its current state.
Even though this version is similar to the bill that passed the Senate last June (minus unrelated provisions dealing with regional election of appellate judges), this bill cannot be implemented in time for the next round of redistricting in 2021.
The failure by the Legislature to pass this bill in the 2017-18 session drastically shortened the time remaining to enact reform. Amending Pennsylvania’s Constitution requires passing the same amendment in two consecutive two-year sessions followed by a voter referendum. The earliest this could possibly occur would be at the Primary election in May 2021.
SB 22 says the new redistricting commission must be appointed no later than July 1 of each Federal census year. The next Federal census after May of 2021 will be in 2030. Pennsylvania voters will not wait another decade to end partisan gerrymandering.
SB 22 also lacks crucial details that determine how commission applicants will be evaluated and selected. The 2018 version of SB 22 left these details to be worked out later through implementing legislation.
But “later” is no longer an option. With no process in place for screening applicants, leaders of the General Assembly would be free to appoint their political allies to the commission. This means of course that the commission would not be independent of the Legislature – a key reform that voters are demanding.
FDPA leaders shared those concerns with both Senators Folmer and Boscola and proposed amendments to address these issues. While Senator Folmer moved the bill as is to a vote, he also made clear that he does not consider the bill finished and is open to introducing amendments on the Senate floor. As he said, “this is the first step in a 1000 step journey.”
Senator Folmer once again expressed his opposition to the idea of random selection, but also stated “I’m just one vote.”
Senator Williams defended random selection, reminding the committee that every jury is composed by random selection, and juries are regularly entrusted with life-altering decisions. Despite his reservations about the bill as is, Senator Williams voted to pass the bill from committee, remarking on the need to maintain momentum on this important issue. As he said “we are in a complicated space.”
We will continue conversations with Senators Folmer, Williams and Boscola as they work to move this reform forward in the senate. While House Bills 22 and 23 represent a compilation of the best ideas and advice we’ve received to date, we appreciate the continued interest in Senate Bill 22. We look forward to talking with ALL our senators about amendments that would ensure an independent redistricting process for both congressional and legislative redistricting by 2021.