A five member state panel has 90-days to craft a preliminary redistricting plan for Pennsylvania’s 253-House and Senate districts. If Wednesday’s meeting is any indication, they’re up for the challenge. In mere minutes, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission allocated its $4.8-million dollar budget, OK’d a new website that allows the public to track its progress, set two public hearings for September and deemed the new US Census data “usable.”
“I have every confidence that we will work through the process and get it done in a timely manner,” says Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny). House Majority Leader Mike Turzai thinks they can even beat the 90-day deadline. “You have to give the electorate an opportunity – before the petition process – to know exactly where the lines are,” Turzai said after Wednesday’s meeting.
The Legislative Reapportionment Commission is comprised of all four legislative floor leaders in Harrisburg and their court-appointed chairman. They are tasked with using the new population data to redraw Pennsylvania’s legislative map in time for the 2012 elections.
The two Democratic members voiced concerns over precinct-level data to be used in 129 of the 9,254 voting precincts in the state. “Right now, we’re trying to maintain the integrity of the voting precincts that have existed for 40, 50-years,” says House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny). Turzai, however, doesn’t concede that there are problems and the panel agreed to make any necessary refinements as they go.
Good government advocates will be watching to see that every district has an equal size population, that no existing geo-political area is unnecessarily divided and that districts are compact and contiguous. Turzai says it’s too soon to talk specifics: “Some districts have to get larger, some districts have to get smaller and as a result there may be some shifts within the state. Those are decisions that the commission’s going to have to address.”
Once the preliminary map is ready, there will be a 30-day window for public comment. Then, the commission will have another 30-days to adopt a final redistricting plan.