PA High Court Deems Final Redistricting Plan Constitutional

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has unanimously ruled to dismiss the appeals filed by critics of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission’s 2012 Revised Final Plan.  In his opinion Chief Justice Ronald Castille suggested the question of municipal splits was “close,” but writes that the appellants did not prove the plan is contrary to law.

The state’s high court had previously rejected a 2011 version of the redistricting plan.

Four justices joined with Castille on the latest opinion, and Justice Saylor Thomas Saylor wrote his own concurring opinion.  Recently convicted, resigned & sentenced Justice Joan Orie Melvin did not participate. 

“I was happy that the decision was unanimous,” Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) told a group of reporters gathered in his capitol offices.  “There was not a single dissenting opinion and it’s a very diverse court.”

Senate Democrats were among the appellants and Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) released a statement calling today’s decision disappointing.  “However, Senate Democrats recognize that the court has now ruled and that it is time to move on in crafting policies that serve all citizens of Pennsylvania,” Costa’s statement concludes.    

The new legislative boundaries will be in effect for next year’s legislative elections.

Study: the Arts are an Economic Driver in PA

The direct economic activity generated by nonprofit arts groups and their audiences adds up to more than $2.5-billion dollars in Pennsylvania, according to a new study by Americans for the Arts.  “We pay our taxes, we spend in our communities and we create jobs,” explains Jenny Hershour, managing director of Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania. 

The new study actually finds 81,000 full-time equivalent jobs and $360-million dollars being paid in taxes.  “For this current fiscal year the General Assembly approved a budget that included $8.179 million dollars for grants to nonprofit arts organizations,” Hershour says.  “If you compare that with $360-million that nonprofit arts organizations are generating for state and local governments, that’s a really good investment.” 

Arts supporters in the General Assembly will soon be spreading that message with the creation of a bipartisan, bicameral arts and culture caucus in Harrisburg.  Speaking at a news conference in the state Capitol rotunda, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) called the arts an essential part of the fabric of Pennsylvania. 

“It is music to my ears,” Hershour told Radio PA when asked about the new caucus.

New Legislative Maps Still in Limbo

The Legislative Reapportionment Commission has met for the first time since the state Supreme Court threw out its 2011 redistricting plan.  No votes were taken and the proceedings lasted only minutes before Chairman Stephen McEwen recessed the meeting until next Tuesday.  “It has come close, we’re not there yet,” McEwen said of the legislative leaders’ efforts to arrive at a compromise that can pass constitutional muster with the high court. 

Dominic Pileggi

Sen. Pileggi talks with the media following Wednesday's commission meeting.

Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) suggests that the April 24th primary election will be held using the 2001 legislative maps. “There is no way that we can have a new map in place in time for the April 24th primary to occur with the new map.”  Pileggi doesn’t foresee legislative action to move the primary date, but did not speculate as to whether additional court action will be taken on the issue. 

Republicans have filed legal action that contends use of the 2001 maps would violate the constitutional principles of “one person, one vote,” but Pileggi notes the state Supreme Court has directed them to use existing maps in the existing primary cycle. 

Neither Pileggi nor his Democratic counterpart would discuss details of the ongoing negotiations.  “All I can tell you is that we’re working together to try to figure out what we can do to incorporate a plan that adheres to the Supreme Court decision and to the constitution,” Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) told a gaggle of reporters after the meeting. 

Costa believes the courts have been very clear that the April 24th primaries need go on with the 2001 lines.  “We believe that’s going to be the case.”

State Capitol Facing North Office Building

Redistricting Panel Seeks to Beat the Clock

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.”   

State Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny)

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai talks to the media following Wednesday's Legislative Reapportionment Commission meeting.

“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.