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House GOP alters a second proposal for independent redistricting commission

David Weissman
York Dispatch
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County.

A state House committee has, for the second time, significantly altered a bill aimed at establishing an independent redistricting committee.

Republicans in the House State Government Committee first voted in early April to amend a proposal drafted by state Rep. Steve Samuelson, D-Northampton County, to create an 11-member commission to draw legislative and congressional districts.

The amended version, which still sits in the committee, would amend the state constitution to create a six-member commission to produce new boundaries for legislative and congressional districts every decade.

The Republican and Democratic caucuses in the two chambers would each pick one member, and the fifth and sixth members would be voted on by the full House and Senate.

More:House GOP backs plan to give majority more districting power

More:York County Democratic women talk nonpartisan re-redistricting

Under current law, legislative districts are produced by a five-person commission, with each caucus leader choosing one person. The four then pick a fifth member, but if they can’t agree — and they usually don’t — the state Supreme Court appoints the fifth member.

On Monday, April 30, Republicans in the committee approved the same amendment for a similar bill proposed by state Rep. Ed Neilsen, D-Philadelphia.

Every Democrat in the committee voted against the amendment both times, and party leaders have chided committee chairman Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, for giving no advance warning or time to debate the changes.

Members of the anti-gerrymandering group Fair Districts PA, which supports the goal of an independent commission, are also angry with Metcalfe.

"It's incredibly disrespectful to the legislative process, to voters and to his colleagues," said Carol Kuniholm, chairwoman of Fair Districts PA.

Kuniholm said her group is going to make sure voters are aware of what Metcalfe and other Republicans in his committee are doing.

She pointed out that York County Reps. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, and Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, serve on the committee and have sided with Metcalfe on these votes.

Pennsylvania State Rep. Seth Grove reacts to Gov. Tom Wolf's 2017-18 budget address at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Grove is running unopposed in 2018, while Phillips-Hill is vacating her seat to run for the 28th District Senate seat against Republican Julie Wheeler and Democrats Judith McCormick Higgins and Shawn Mauck.

Grove and Phillips-Hill could not immediately be reached for comment.

Democrats' issues with Metcalfe don't end with these recent amendments to their redistricting reform hopes.

Metcalfe wrote in a Facebook post recently that he blocks "all substantive Democrat legislation sent to my committee."

State Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill talks about her career and women in politics at her Jacobus office Thursday, July 6, 2017. She represents the 93rd House District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Bill Kalina photo

In response, Democratic House leader Frank Dermody sent a letter to House Speaker Mike Turzai informing him that all Democratic bills currently in Metcalfe's State House Committee have been reintroduced under different numbers in hopes that they will be assigned to a different committee.

"It is our hope ... that you will refer these bills to other committees with rational and fair chairpersons so that the bills may at least have a chance at consideration," he wrote.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.