OPED: Folmer hard at work on redistricting reform

Sen. Mike Folmer
48th Pa. Senate District

My “Promise to Pennsylvania” calls for strict adherence to Article III of the state Constitution on how legislation is passed. It’s why I’ve insisted as chair of the Senate State Government Committee to publicly vet legislation prior to voting.

As redistricting changes have long been a goal of mine, I’ve wanted for some time to hold a series of hearings on proposed redistricting bills referred to the committee.  However, lawsuits over the 2011 maps forced me to put these hearings on hold.

With the conclusion of these court challenges, I was pleased and relieved to convene the first public hearings on proposals to change our redistricting process. I hope those who watched found them as informative as I did.

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution as amended by the 14th Amendment establishes the requirement to apportion congressional districts and gives the states authority to establish the qualifications. Article II, Sections 16 and 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution establish the number of House and Senate members for the General Assembly and the manner in which those district lines are to be established.

More:EDITORIAL: Pa.'s redistricting debacle shows need for independent commission

These constitutional provisions are why I joined a lawsuit to block the congressional maps drawn by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  I believe the court exceeded its constitutional authority — even though I voted against the 2011 maps.

I voted against the 2011 maps.  I repeat this because of criticisms I’ve received from some saying I supported the 2011 maps — I didn’t.

Yes, I have been critical of the court because I believe if we fail to follow our rules of law — the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions — our constitutional republic doesn’t work and the judiciary becomes a political weapon.

I don’t believe having one person draw election lines as the court did is good public policy — especially when there was no public explanation of how the maps were redrawn, no public hearings were held, and no recourse was given to anyone to challenge the court’s maps.  Hopefully, this isn’t the type of reform people have talked about with me.

There’s a reason why both the U.S. and the Pennsylvania constitutions begin with an enumeration of the powers and responsibilities of the Legislature:  Article I of the U.S. Constitution and Article II of the Pennsylvania Constitution (Article I is our Bill of Rights).

Several bills to change the reapportionment process have been referred to the Senate State Government Committee dealing with how the General Assembly’s election lines are drawn and/or how congressional maps are determined.

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

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), six states use independent commissions to draw legislative redistricting maps, and one state (Iowa) has legislative staff draw the maps for their legislative districts. Of the six states relying upon independent commissions to draw maps: Alaska uses a five-member independent commission, Arizona also uses a five-member commission, California has a 14-member commission, Idaho a six-member independent commission, Montana a five-member commission, and Washington State also has a five-member commission.

NCSL also notes 13 states have commissions to draw state legislative districts, including Pennsylvania.

Five states appoint advisory commissions to help advise their legislatures about where state legislative district lines should be drawn: Iowa, Maine, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

I look forward to continued discussion of these much needed and long overdue reforms.

— State Sen. Mike Folmer represents the 48th Senate District in the Pennsylvania State Legislature. Reach him at www.senatorfolmer.com.