Roe denounces amendment to redistricting bill
By Richard Gaw
In a big blow to a state bill intended to strike down future partisan gerrymandering in Pennsylvania, 15 members of the House State Government Committee voted on April 11 to attach an amendment to House Bill 722 that gives legislators more leverage in the redistricting process, and erases the start of a proposed independent, citizen-led commission that would serve as a watchdog to prevent gerrymandering practices in the state.
The tweaked amendment redefines HB 722 and would guarantee that politicians continue to have a partisan grip on how district lines are drawn, preventing the opportunity for a more fair and transparent redistricting process, said Rep. Eric Roe of the 158th Legislative District in Chester County, who co-sponsored and introduced the bipartisan bill with Rep. Steve Samuelson, (D-Northampton).
“I am very disappointed by what transpired on Wednesday at the impromptu House State Government Committee meeting on HB 722,” Roe said. “The intention of our bill was to make the redistricting process less partisan and more neutral. The ‘gut-and-replace’ amendment inserted by the committee did just the opposite. It placed more power in the hands of partisan politicians, and it gave the majority party -- whichever party that will be after the next census in 2021 -- an even greater opportunity to gerrymander.
“Speaking as a Republican, this move wasn’t just a slap in the face to Democrats and independents. It was an affront to the 38 House Republicans who co-sponsored our bill.”
The bipartisan bill would have created an independent redistricting commission to prevent future partisan gerrymandering in Pennsylvania, made of non-politicians would have added necessary checks and balances to the redistricting process. Developed in conjunction with Fair Districts PA, the commission composed of four Republicans, four Democrats and three independents would have required the approval of each of those subgroups before certifying final maps for congressional and state legislative boundary lines. Under the current system led by party leaders and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the party affiliations of voters are sometimes used to protect incumbents.
Samuelson echoed Roe's opposition, and said that the committee vote was a “sneak attack on Democracy,” and “would give party leaders even more power in the redistricting process and would lead to even more gerrymandering in Pennsylvania.”
“Passing the amendment at a meeting without an agenda, without advance notice that redistricting reform would be discussed, and with language available only 30 minutes before the vote – was an outrageous abuse of the legislative process,” he added. “The bill that Rep. Roe and I introduced seeks to have legislative maps drawn by an independent redistricting commission, and not party leaders who currently are in charge of the process.
“The amendment totally eliminates the independent commission and keeps party leaders in control. We need to end gerrymandering – not expand it. We remain committed to passing legislation to establish an independent citizens redistricting commission, and are grateful to the 110 House members who were cosponsors of the original version of House Bill 722.”
The Senate version of the bill, SB 22, remains without amendment and could potentially be sent over to the House for a concurrence vote upon passage in the Senate.
Roe said that despite the ruling, he remains undeterred.
“This was certainly a setback, but it’s not the end,” he said. “We’ll keep fighting, and hopefully replace this bad amendment with one that restores the spirit and intent of the original bill.”