Pa. lawmakers circulate memos in anticipation of new redistricting battle

The new legislative session will officially start in 2019. (Tim Lambert/WITF)

The new legislative session will officially start in 2019. (Tim Lambert/WITF)

Though the new state legislative session hasn’t technically started, lawmakers are already filing memos for the bills they plan to sponsor.

One of the first issues on the agenda has already commanded lawmakers’ attention for nearly a year: redistricting.

Last winter, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled the state’s congressional map unfairly benefited Republicans and redrew it. The move inflamed a debate that had smoldered for a long time: that the map-drawing process has to be less political.

The commonwealth’s congressional maps are passed through state legislation. State House and Senate maps are drawn by a five-member commission, of which four members are elected officials.

But many lawmakers and activists want some form of citizen’s commission to manage the process instead.

Lehigh County Democratic Senator Lisa Boscola is trying to make it happen. She sponsored a bill to that effect last session and, after many compromises, a version passed the Senate that would have created an eleven-member citizens’ commission appointed by the legislature and governor, among other things.

Many activists ultimately opposed it, arguing it would let lawmakers retain too much power. It never passed the House.

But this year, Boscola is hopeful. She said she is working with Mike Folmer, a GOP Senator from Dauphin County who is introducing his own redistricting bill, and one way or another she thinks a compromise is in the offing.

“You know, sometimes you just hold your nose and vote for something because you liked one part of it,” she said. “That’s what makes this legislature work.”

She added that this year, the conversation is starting further ahead.

“We’ve had hearings,” she said. “We’ve done all the groundwork, now it’s just time for action. No more studying it. We’ve studied this.”

Governor Tom Wolf recently created a panel of redistricting experts, former lawmakers, and others to examine the issue. Boscola said it can’t hurt — though the idea was poorly received by Republicans.

House and Senate majority leaders accused Wolf of grandstanding and said they won’t participate.

It’s unclear whether lawmakers can change state and congressional redistricting by the time reapportionment happens in 2021, but Boscola said that remains the goal.

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