The Senate State Government Committee will vote on May 22 on a proposed amendment to Senate Bill 22, then on the amended SB 22 itself.
Fair Districts PA supports the Folmer amendment to Senate Bill 22 (Amendment A07149) and asks Senate State Government Committee members to support A07149 and to vote YES on the amended Senate Bill 22.
We believe the Folmer amendment retains the vision of an independent citizens commission, adds important safeguards for both process and product and addresses key concerns raised by legislators in both houses and both major parties.
Like the original Senate Bill 22:
For the first time in PA, congressional and state legislative districts would have to comply with strict criteria designed to produce fair districts that are not drawn to protect incumbents. The current prohibition against splitting counties and municipalities unless absolutely necessary in drawing state Senate and House districts would also be applied to congressional districts.
The amendment would establish a new Independent Reapportionment and Redistricting Commission to redraw lines for congressional and state Senate and House districts after each decennial census.
Membership on the 11-member commission would be open to any Pennsylvania voter who meets eligibility criteria to be defined in separate implementing legislation. However, no elected or appointed government officials would be permitted on the commission.
Once the Secretary of the Commonwealth has reviewed the eligibility and qualifications of all applicants, he would create pools of applicants based upon their party registration. The Secretary would also ensure that the applicant pools reflect the geographic, gender and racial diversity of PA.
The commission would be prohibited from considering: (1) addresses of voters; (2) their political affiliations; and (3) previous election results.
The commission must hold at least six public hearings across PA and all input, data and proposed maps must be made available to the public.
Unlike SB 22, the selection process would allow legislators a role in the selection process while adding important safeguards for commission independence, strengthening the need for bipartisan approval, and adding language constraining the drawing of maps to ensure compactness and minimal splits of counties and municipalities:
Members would be appointed by leaders of the General Assembly (House and Senate minority and majority leaders would each select two commissioners) and the Governor, who would select three independent/third party commissioners. All commissioners would be selected from a prescreened pool of applicants and would be subject to further approval by two-thirds of the General Assembly. This appointment and confirmation process is designed to produce a diverse, well-qualified commission with broad bi-partisan support.
Commission members and their staff and advisors would be prohibited from receiving communications from anyone on redistricting matters except in an open meeting or online comment equally available to all members of the public and retained as part of the public record.
Final maps must be approved by seven members, including two Democrats, two Republicans and two unaffiliated with either major party.
The amendment would require that (1) a county could not contain more Senate districts than the number required by the population plus one; and (2) a county could not contain more representative districts than the population requires plus two.
Finally, the amendment includes a “fail-safe” mechanism in the unlikely event that the commission is unable to agree on a final plan. The commission would recommend two or three maps in each category where commissioners could not agree. Those maps would be made available online for public comment for at least ten days before the General Assembly would approve final maps by a two-thirds vote.
Some specific provisions are left to future implementing legislation, which could include:
Additional detail regarding commissioner qualifications
Specific mechanisms for a transparent and open selection process that will reasonably reflect the geographic, gender and racial diversity of the commonwealth
Reasons for removal of commissioners
Requirements surrounding required public meetings, and possible provision of additional meetings either before creation of proposed maps or at other points in the process.
Requirements for training of commissioners in map-making processes and Voting Rights Act requirements.
Rules surrounding requests for proposal and hiring of mapmaking consultants.
Provisions for ensuring transparency of public comment, data and proposed maps.
We believe the Folmer amendment is a fair compromise with the original proposal, addresses a variety of legislative concerns, and is a vast improvement over the current system which cuts the voters out of the process of drawing districts.
If the amended Senate Bill 22 is approved by the full Senate and House, Pennsylvania will rank second only to California in the degree of independence of the body that decides how the lines are redrawn every ten years.