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State Capitol Leaders Vow To Make Redistricting Reform Legislation A Top Priority

Lawmakers met in Harrisburg Tuesday to announce the formation of a legislative group aimed at reforming the boundaries for Congressional districts.

The bipartisan, bicameral group cited a plethora of misshapen, poorly drawn district boundaries that they said pressure lawmakers to toe the party line at the expense of political compromise.

Democratic Sen. Rob Teplitz of Dauphin County considers himself Exhibit A. Maps were redrawn after his election, so the voters he now serves didn’t actually choose him – they inherited him.

“Clearly these decisions should not be made based on political desired outcomes," Teplitz said. "They should be made to meet the state constitutional standards of compactness of districts, contiguity of districts and respect for the integrity of political subdivisions.”

Congressional leaders pointed to maps outlining the problem. One district runs from Adams County to the northern tier; another goes from Easton to Harrisburg; a third runs from Cambria County to the Ohio line.

Lawmakers said it’s important that the reform process take shape this session to have a new system in place when district maps are redrawn again for the 2020 census. To do that, the Legislature will have to amend the state’s constitution and get voter approval through a referendum.

“Modern day government has deteriorated into a politically tainted, polarized and gridlocked force that is more about self-preservation than representative government,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton). “This bipartisan effort is not about whether we need to change redistricting, but how we should change it.”

New legislative maps were supposed to be in place for the 2012 elections but were overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Rep. Dave Parker (R-Monroe) said there have been so many senators serving he and his neighbors over the years that they lose track. As a new representative, he said even his own district feels scattered.

“It was cut in a certain way to get certain votes," Parker said. "And as a result, to adequately meet the needs of people, I feel I need two offices. If it were structured better geographically, you could be centralized, people could have better access and we would have a government that works.”

Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks) called the current system “egregious” and “spin art.” That's why, he said, having bipartisan support and cooperation is so crucial.

“It happened to be a Republican plan, but I will tell you – and I would say this to my Republican colleagues – that it wouldn’t have been any different had we Democrats been in charge. It just would’ve been a map favoring Democrats.”

Megan Harris is a writer, editor, photographer and curator for Pittsburgh's NPR News station. She leads editorial coverage for The Confluence, 90.5 WESA's live, one-hour, daily morning news show.