Legislature Pennsylvania

One-fourth of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is sworn-in Jan. 5 at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. Because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, members were sworn-in in four groups.

HARRISBURG — Two days of hearings highlighting public comments over redistricting proposals for the Pennsylvania Legislature ended Friday as panel members heard repeated calls to reconsider splits and shifts of existing districts across the commonwealth.

More than 50 private citizens, community activists and elected officials petitioned the five-member Legislative Reapportionment Commission on Thursday and Friday to avoid dividing municipalities and school districts.

Concerns ranged from weakening minority votes, cutting historic and cultural ties within communities and neighborhoods, and creating confusion as to who municipal officials would turn to for help for regionalized services that cross legislative boundaries.

Several commenters raised specific concerns about how the proposals are likely to prevent minority communities in urban cities from electing Latino and Black representatives.

“The redistricting map comes out and now a district that almost was won by a Latina is gone,” said Enid Santiago, of Allentown, who narrowly lost a bid for the Democrat nomination for the District 22 House seat in 2020.

The proposal shifts the 22nd’s current borders and splits Allentown in three districts instead of two. For the Senate, it would split in two rather than remain within one district. Santiago expressed that the proposal divides the strength of the Latino vote in a way that favors incumbents and could prevent the election of a candidate from that community.

Maria del Carmen Gutierrez of York spoke to the statewide growth of the Latino population and a lack of awareness among that community about redistricting and its potential impacts. The preliminary maps are a major improvement over the current legislative maps, Gutierrez said, however, she advocated for changes in Lancaster and York to strengthen Latinos’ chances of electing a minority representative.

“These populations have historically been split in the redistricting process to prevent people of color from electing candidate of their choice,” she said. “Fair maps must be racially equitable maps.”

Rep. Matthew Bradford, D-Montgomery County, noted how proposed shifts do result in strong Latino voting blocs in parts of Reading, Lancaster, Norristown and the newly created 22nd House seat which at nearly 51%, has a majority Latino voting-age population.

Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland County, pushed for the proposed Senate District 14, a new district that includes Allentown and is nearly 28% Latino and 10% Black among the voting-age population.

In southwestern Pennsylvania, Suzanne Broughton of McCandless said the North Allegheny School District is at risk of being split as is her town, with five wards going to one House district and two to another. She asked the commission to reconsider the shifts that fracture municipalities and school districts.

Regis Synan, mayor of Murraysville, said his town would be split over two House districts, too, something he said occurred once before being restored in 2011.

John Barrett, manager of South Fayette Township, expressed concerns about how the redrawn districts, with his township moving to the proposed 44th House District, would impact state assistance for regionalized efforts like emergency medical services and water quality and stormwater issues.

“Keeping us in that 46th District seems to make a lot of sense for us,” Barrett said.

Additional hearings are set for Jan. 14 and Jan. 15. Public comment can be submitted at www.redistricting.state.pa.us, which is also home to the proposed maps and more information. The deadline for the public to raise exceptions with the proposals is Jan. 18. The commission would pursue changes in the weeks following before potentially finalizing the maps next month, running up against the formal start of the campaign season for the May 17 primary election.

Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre/Mifflin counties, called for changes. He’s one of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission’s five members.

“Whether it has been testimony about how communities of interest in southwestern Pennsylvania have been broken apart, how Cumberland County deserves an additional House seat based upon population gain, how the preliminary House map dilutes the voice of Hispanic voters, or any number of other concerns that have been submitted to the commission, it is clear that significant changes are needed to the preliminary House map,” Benninghoff said.

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