By Shaniece Holmes-Brown
PLCA Intern

HARRISBURG (July 13) - House Republican lawmakers and advocates held a press conference Monday in Richboro, Bucks County, to announce efforts to promote voter input in the drawing of congressional district maps.
House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, House State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, and Rep. Wendi Thomas, R-Bucks, discussed the details of the plan and expressed how it will work to promote voter trust in governmental processes.

“Engaging in redistricting is one of the most important processes the legislature will undertake. From the beginning, at both the state and federal levels, the House Republican Caucus has said we are committed to a fair, open and legal process to draw new district lines to preserve our ideal of ‘one person, one vote,’” Benninghoff said during the press conference.

Redistricting is the process of enacting new congressional and state legislative district boundaries. Every ten years after the U.S. Census is completed, the districts are redrawn with the goal to reach fair representation of the citizens in each district.

Thomas introduced legislation, House Bill 22, this past February regarding a new process to promote voter trust. However, House Republicans said they're moving forward with some of the ideas contained within HB22 for this year's congressional redistricting process, without the bill being enacted. Thomas said she would continue to advocate for the entirety of HB22, but expressed her happiness that some of her legislation would help improve the redistricting process this year.

“This new process will prevent extreme partisan gerrymandering and promote accountability by the voters. In these divisive political times, many people have lost faith in their political systems. It’s critical that we have an open system as much as possible; one that’s as transparent as possible,” Thomas said during the press conference.

The portions of Thomas' legislation that are being implemented now, say Republicans, are intended to make redistricting more accessible to Pennsylvania citizens by: allowing residents to submit their redistricting map ideas; having the House State Government Committee hold four public hearings in different regions of the Commonwealth; and creating a new website paredistricting.com that will allow citizens to comment about the process. Republicans said this would be a "trial run" for these concepts, and that if they work well, there could be an effort to put them into law in the future.

Some Democrats are hopeful this will be the first step towards a process that appeases bipartisan concerns of fair redrawing of district maps.

"It’s nice to finally see the majority party make an effort to listen to the people on such an important issue. I hope Pennsylvanians fill-up the chairman’s inbox to remind him that our districts must be compact and keep communities together. Hopefully, these efforts signal that the GOP will listen to what the people want on this and other issues," said House Democratic State Government Committee Chairwoman Rep. Margo Davidson, D-Delaware, on the matter.
But, there is still concern the effort isn’t tackling the redistricting process for state government. Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, said more must be done.

“I was a little disappointed because they were only talking about congressional redistricting and didn’t discuss state House and Senate seats. It’s good the public gets to see the process, but it’s not going to be so egregious,” said Boscola. She proposed legislation, Senate Bill 222, similar to Thomas’ HB22, but Boscola’s bill was amended in the Senate State Government Committee last month to make it focus only on standards for the congressional redistricting process.

Boscola also discussed the active role of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission in the legislative redistricting process.

The Legislative Reapportionment Commission, as required by the Pennsylvania Constitution, is responsible for redrawing both state Senate and state House districts. It has four caucus floor leaders, and a selected neutral chairman. Its current members are: Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R - Westmoreland, Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Mifflin, House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton, D -Philadelphia, and Supreme Court appointed Chairman Mark Nordenberg.

The first set of House hearings will held on Thursday, July 22, in the state Capitol with an overview of reapportionment from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., followed by a hearing to receive stakeholder input from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Additional dates for hearings will be posted on the redistricting website when they are set.

“The publicly accessible website and the ability for Pennsylvanians to submit their own maps clearly makes this effort the most transparent congressional redistricting process in Pennsylvania's history. We are glad to be part of that,” Benninghoff said.