The holidays are past and our legislators in Harrisburg have returned to move our state government forward-backward-sideways, depending on your perspective. There are two bills currently in play that UUJusticePA and Fair Districts PA advise us to follow, learn about, and contact our representatives to express our support or opposition.
HB 38-a constitutional amendment that would effectively gerrymander our courts. It would require PA’s statewide judges to run for election in regional districts drawn by lawmakers. It would not be subject to Governor’s veto; it would need to be approved by the legislature for a second time and then become part of the PA Constitution. Fair Districts PA, who knows about these contentious yet important issues, says we should Say No to this Judicial Gerrymandering. For in-depth information and analysis go to https://www.fairdistrictspa.com/, click on News and Updates, and decide where you stand on this issue. Currently, we elect higher court judges in statewide elections. In the 2019-2020 session, the PA General Assembly passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow our state legislature to create judicial districts for PA higher courts. Candidates for Supreme Court and other appeals courts would be elected by voters in these districts rather than running statewide. HB 38 was voted out of the committee on January 13. If it passes in early to mid-February it could go to a vote on the ballot in the May Primary Election.
The proposed judicial district amendment would:
–Undermine constitutional checks and balances among our branches of state government
–Open the door to a new, unprecedented version of gerrymandering
The amendment was pushed through with just minutes spent in discussion in both house and senate committees. No public hearings. No expert testimony. No hint of due diligence. To contact PA Representatives today, Click here: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/say-no-to-judicial-districts?source=email&
For even more effective communication, call your own legislator (click here https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/ to identify and obtain contact information) or House Speaker Brian Cutler 717-783-6424 (Capitol Office) or 717-284-1965 (District Office).
The second legislation of concern is HB 2207 and its Sham “Citizens Commission”. It proposes to amend the PA Constitution to abolish the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC) and replace it with an 11-member “citizens commission,” most of whom would be appointed by leaders of the General Assembly. This is NOT the independent citizens commission that voters deserve. It
· fails to provide for membership on the commission for Independent and third-party voters.
· appears to be designed to fail. A redistricting plan would require approval by two-thirds of commission members, which will certainly lead to partisan gridlock and failure to agree on a
· would allow the Senate and House to step in and approve new legislative maps by a simple majority vote, not the two-thirds required for the commission itself to act.
· there would be no role for the Governor in approving or vetoing a Senate or House map.
· could appear on the ballot as early as May of 2023 assuming it passes this year and again early in the next session.
If approved, HB 2207 would take effect immediately, paving the way for new legislative district maps in time for the 2024 election. Watch the Fair Districts website for updates on this legislation. The scheduled vote on Jan. 10 did not happen, but it will be back. You can follow this and other legislation and learn more about our state government processes at https://www.legis.state.pa.us/
These bills and the current redistricting process are extremely complicated but important to our maintaining (establishing?) a fair and effective Democracy. Take time to participate as informed citizens as you have time and interest.
(Becky Studer, UUJusticePA liaison)