Pennsylvania Could Lead The Way In Addressing Gerrymandering

Oct 10, 2019

On today's program: Pennsylvania could be the roadmap to handling gerrymandering in other states; new meat inspection rules could have implications for the safety of food and workers; a local school takes a new approach to teaching social studies; Pittsburghers consider a tax to pay for city parks improvements; and state police aren't collecting data about the race of those they pull over. 

How Pennsylvania addressed gerrymandering and how other states can do the same
(00:00 — 12:35) 

Pending lawsuits in at least eight states claim that congressional district maps were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit one political party. Most of the suits are in federal court, but in North Carolina, voting fairness advocates are following the course Pennsylvania plaintiffs set, claiming the map violates the state constitution.

“I think their constitution [is] very similar to our state constitution; it’s more protective than the federal constitution,” said James Lieber, a Pittsburgh attorney and author of “Victory:  How Pennsylvania Beat Gerrymandering and How Other States Can Do the Same.”

On Jan. 22, 2018 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered that congressional districts be remapped, ruling that the Republican-drawn districts, “clearly, plainly, and palpably,” violated the state's Constitution.

When Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Tom Wolf failed to come up with a compromise, the high court drew its own map, which took effect for the 2018 mid-term elections. Those contests resulted in an even split of Democrats and Republicans in the Congressional delegation.

Lieber said he wasn’t surprised by the court ruling. 

“What was most important in the way the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided the case was that people’s votes counted unequally,”he said, and that it violated the constitution.

Looser slaughterhouse regulations could threaten food safety 
(13:51 — 17:51) 

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a new rule changing meat inspection standards for pork. The new regulations would allow for faster processing speeds and also change who does the inspecting by giving the pork producers themselves a bigger role. The Allegheny Front's Julie Grant reports these changes represent the first updates to hog slaughterhouse inspection procedures in over 50 years. Proponents says they will bring much-needed modernization and innovation to the industry. Critics say it’s a dangerous move toward privatization and decreased food safety.

School district makes deliberate effort to mold informed citizens
(17:52 — 22:30) 

Social studies is often taught as one class, but it covers disciplines including history, geography and political science. This year, teachers in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District are changing their approach to the subject with a focus on citizenship. 

90.5 WESA's Sarah Schneider reports that the subject isn’t assessed by standardized tests in Pennsylvania, so the curriculum hasn’t been reviewed as often in the district as the core subjects like English or math. For the first time in many years Andrea Huffman, the director of district curriculum, gathered all of the social studies teachers this summer to discuss where lessons were coming up short and what could be improved.

City Parks need work, but should residents be on the hook for the bill? 
(22:33 — 27:01) 

This November, city of Pittsburgh residents will vote on a tax hike to improve the city's park system. But as 90.5 WESA's Chris Potter reports, critics fear that when voters make their choice, the playing field won't be level. 

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy says the city's 165 parks need $400 million worth of work. That's why they're urging city residents to approve a referendum to raise property taxes by half a million dollars. That's an extra $50 for every hundred thousand dollars a home is worth, and the money will be earmarked for parks. But big city parks like Schenley and Frick already receive money from a county sales tax and City Controller Michael Lamb says that while the parks need help, so do roads and other infrastructure.

Pennsylvania State Police to resume collecting race data during traffic stops
(27:05 
— 38:30)

A Spotlight PA report has found that Pennsylvania State Police are not currently collecting data about the race of the drivers troopers pull over. The reporting, done by Angela Couloumbis and Daniel Simmons-Ritchie, found that similarly sized agencies collect this data, and the Pennsylvania State Police is one of only 11 statewide law enforcement agencies in the U.S. that does not collect race data during stops. It's by far the largest.

The report found that the move was based on studies that found no evidence of racial disparities in traffic stops. One of those studies had, however, identified “racial, ethnic, and gender disparities” in how troopers dealt with motorists after they were stopped. In September after being presented with the findings of Spotlight PA’s survey, State Police officials said the agency would reverse course and resume collection next year.

90.5 WESA's Hannah Gaskill and Julia Maruca contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.