York City Council considers joining call for citizens' redistricting commission

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

York City Council will consider throwing its support behind an independent citizens' redistricting commission during a Tuesday, June 5, council meeting.

Council members unanimously agreed during a committee meeting Wednesday, May 23, to vote on the resolution next month.

Hundreds of other Pennsylvania municipalities, including York County, have approved similar resolutions.

More:York County commissioners join call for citizens redistricting commission

"This is something that I'm in favor of, and we should stand united with other York County municipalities that have signed onto this," said Council President Henry Nixon.

York City Councilman Henry Nixon gives the first responders memorial tribute during the 2016 Court of Valor & Safekeepers Shrine Ceremony with York's Observance of the 15th Anniversary of 9/11 at Prospect Hill Cemetery in North York, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"This is a part of a statewide effort to form a public commission that is neither Republican nor Democrat, but simply a citizens' commission for fair redistricting," he added.

More than 250 Pennsylvania cities, towns, boroughs and counties have already made similar resolutions, according to Fair Districts PA, a nonprofit volunteer organization that aims to end partisan gerrymandering.

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However, bills proposing citizens' commissions haven't done well in the state Legislature.

Alan Vandersloot, a West York Borough councilman, said the city's proposed resolution would "add weight to local efforts."

However, he also noted that while there has been progress made, an amendment to the forward-moving Senate Bill 22 stripped the idea of a citizens' commission Tuesday, May 22.

More:Pa. redistricting bill on its way to Senate

"(The amendment) doesn't quite establish everything that an independent citizens' commission would bring, but it certainly is measured to bring more fair redistricting in the state," Vandersloot said. "However, the movement has been growing, and I'm glad that municipalities have been embracing that."

Although the amendment doesn't duplicate the desires of the proposed resolution, it's in the council's best interest to support it, said Vandersloot, referencing a May 21 news release from Fair Districts PA, for which he volunteers.

"We believe the (state Sen. Mike) Folmer amendment is a fair compromise with the original proposal, addresses a variety of legislative concerns and is a vast improvement over the current system, which cuts the voters out of the process of drawing districts," the news release stated.

Nixon agreed that the amendment is a step in the right direction.

"Anything that would at least improve the redistricting process is something I support," he said. "I applaud these efforts of trying to make it more fair."

All that's left to do, Vandersloot said, is to get the House "on board" with the recent amendment made to the Senate bill.

Redistricting bills in the Senate: Senate Bill 22, proposed by Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton County, was amended in the state government committee and will now head to the Senate floor.

The bill had been sitting in the state government committee since last February. The committee is chaired by Folmer, a Republican who represents Lebanon and parts of Dauphin and York counties.

Under the recent amendment, unlike Boscola's original plan for a citizens' commission,  the redistricting process still would be left up to legislators.

The commission would consist of four Democrats, four Republicans and three independents. Eight would be chosen by a leader from each party in both chambers and the three independents would be chosen by the governor.

Seven votes would be required to approve a new congressional map. Therefore, bipartisan cooperation would be necessary to draw new district lines. If they are unable to agree, the Legislature would have to come up with a two-thirds vote after a 10-day public comment period.

Redistricting bills in the House: In the past year, the House State Government Committee has gutted two Democrat-sponsored redistricting proposals that would create an 11-person citizens' commission.

More:House GOP alters a second proposal for independent redistricting commission

Instead, the committee, chaired by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County, both times voted to amend the legislation to create a six-person commission, which would include one legislator from each chambers' caucuses and two from full votes by the chambers in unison.

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County.

Irritated Democrats have tried to circumvent the committee.

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, wrote a letter to House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, requesting that Democratic bills would be sent to a different committee where they would see fair treatment.

Turzai hasn't yet addressed the efforts.