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A map redrawing state legislative districts has preliminary approval from reapportionment commission

Keith Srakocic

On today’s episode of The Confluence: WESA government and accountability editor Chris Potter reviews the latest on remapping districts for the Pittsburgh Public School board and the Pennsylvania legislature; 
State Treasurer Stacy Garrity tells us how a proposal to create a state-based retirement plan would take the liability off of employers to help their workers save; and a Pitt researcher has found middle-aged women who practice self-compassion have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Redistricting efforts are underway to redraw boundaries for local school boards and state lawmakers
(0:00 - 7:58)

Last week the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission voted in favor of new preliminary district maps for the 203 state House seats and the 50 Senate seats. The five-member panel is composed of the two Republican and two Democratic legislative leaders, plus the chair, Mark Nordenberg.

“They took essentially a preliminary vote here, there’ll now be a public comment period, but The vote was 5-0 in favor of the Senate map, although Kim Ward who leads Republicans in the Senate, said she did expect there to be some changes and wanted there to be some changes,” says WESA’s government and accountability editor Chris Potter. “But if you look at Allegheny County, you can kind of see how these things got negotiated.”

For example, Potter says Democratic state Sen. Lindsay Williams was able to get some more Democratic areas in her district.

“I don’t expect it’s the end of the discussion, but the discussion was a lot more politic, not so much on the House side.”

When it came to the map redrawing House districts, it was preliminarily approved 3-2. House GOP Leader Kerry Benninghoff called the map “extremely partisan gerrymandering.”

The public has 30 days to comment on both maps. In mid-January, the commission will take a final vote, and there may be legal action after the maps are finalized.

Even closer to home, a commission is redrawing the nine school board districts for Pittsburgh Public Schools, which has to be done by Jan. 10.

The commission began the work in October, says Potter, but there’s a 90-day limit after the commission is formed.

Currently, the maps have at most three majority-Black districts. However, there are concerns that in the process of redrawing these boundaries there could be fewer of these districts.

“There are not only concerns, it’s almost certain,” says Potter. “The three majority-Black districts that you’re talking about were under old maps using 2010 Census data. Pittsburgh’s Black population has dropped, it’s an issue we’ve talked about here and elsewhere.”

Potter says at best the commission could have two majority-Black districts, but the process is still ongoing.

The commission has had two public hearings thus far, and there will be another one on Jan. 3.

Group of public officials look to create Keystone Saves

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68% of private industry workers had access to retirement benefits through their employers. In the commonwealth, lawmakers say 2 million Pennsylvanians do not have access to an employer-offered retirement savings plan.

Forthcoming legislation seeks to change that by establishing a state retirement savings program called Keystone Saves.

“All the employer has to do is provide an employee census and then establish a payroll deduction,” Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity says.

In this proposed program, there would be no matching from the employer or the state. Garrity says this will be managed similarly to the 529 plan, a college and career savings account.

“It’s just basically like a Roth IRA,” she says. “So the four options would be a life-cycle fund based on the participant's age, an equity index fund, a bond index fund, and a capital preservation fund. The default contribution is four percent, but the employee could set that lower.”

Study looks at how self-compassion can impact cardiovascular disease

(14:30 - 22:30)

As we near the end of the year and the holiday season, it’s possible we’re experiencing some stress and high blood pressure about upcoming family gatherings, the omicron variant, and another pandemic year under our belt.

There’s good news, though: New research surveying middle-aged women found the risk of cardiovascular disease could be brought down with some self-compassion.

Rebecca Thurston is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Her research on the topic was published last week. The study enrolled women between the ages of 45 and 67.

“All of my research focuses on mid-life women in other work, I do a lot of work around menopause, menopause transition, and this was actually a study originally designed to study those kind of reproductive hormonal factors,” says Thurston.

She says they included self-compassion as a component in the study to include the psychological aspect.

“We found that women who were higher in self-compassion had lower underlying atherosclerosis,” she says.

Atherosclerosis is a thickening or hardening of the artery that’s caused by a buildup of plaque.

Thurston says that women in mid-life don’t typically have clinical cardiovascular disease, but this study could help with prevention.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.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. 

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