On Monday, the state House is scheduled to vote on a bill that aims to amend the state’s constitution to reduce the size of the Legislature.
However, this bill will do nothing to reform our government unless we fix our state’s broken process of drawing the boundaries of these legislative districts – a process that has made Pennsylvania among the most gerrymandered states in the nation.
Last week in committee, I offered an amendment that would have required redistricting reform simultaneous with cutting the size of the legislature.
Given the state Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down our state’s gerrymandered congressional districts, it is common sense that we should seize this opportunity to do our part to end gerrymandering in the state legislature.
Unfortunately, my Republican colleagues did not agree that now is the time to put an end to gerrymandering, and voted against my amendment along strict party lines.
In Pennsylvania, the path to amending the constitution takes two majority votes in the General Assembly within a four-year period and finally a majority of the voters of Pennsylvania during a regular election. The language in the bill must be exactly the same in both sessions, so my amendment would set the effort back, possibly for two years.
Ruling should mean that state court’s remapping order stands, and puts the ball back into the legislature’s court for fast action on a remedial map.
Even if this bill without my amendment passed this year, it would not be effective until after the next census in 2020.
But without explanation, the Republicans seem intent on rushing to have this constitutional amendment appear on the 2018 General Election ballot. It makes no sense and every Pennsylvanian deserves better.
Right now, so many Pennsylvanians are interested in redistricting reform, although so many Republicans are disinterested in talking about it.
But the truth of the matter is that without reform, we would cut and redraw our legislative districts using the same flawed methods that have gotten us into this mess in the first place.
The amendment that I offered would have ensured that redistricting required for a change in the number of representatives in Pennsylvania would be done by an independent commission consisting of 11 members – four members registered as Democrats, four members registered as Republicans and the remaining three members registered as independents or with one of the many third parties.
We know commissions like this work because we’ve seen their successes in other states. If we do not use this opportunity now, fairly drawn districts will be further out of reach and any “reforms” that shrink the size of the legislature will be meaningless.
Simply put, we as Pennsylvanians cannot support a reduction of the Legislature that is an attempt by one party to ensure their continued majority in the General Assembly.
Somehow, too many members of the Legislature have failed to see the public interest around redistricting reform.
And if they don’t hear from you, they won’t do a thing to fix it. I urge you to call your state representative and demand that they only support a reduction of the legislature if it includes meaningful redistricting reform.
State Rep. Mary Jo Daley, a Democrat, represents the Montgomery County-based 148th House District. She writes from Harrisburg.