PA Legislature Will Miss Redistricting Deadline, But Negotiations May Continue

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Senate GOP lawyer Drew Crompton said a lot is still uncertain about how the redistricting process is going to pan out. "We're blazing new ground here," he told reporters. (Photo by Katie Meyer/WITF)

HARRISBURG (WSKG) — Republican leaders in Pennsylvania’s House and Senate said Thursday evening it is impossible for them to pass a new congressional map before the state Supreme Court’s Friday deadline. However, they do have a backup plan. It’s just not clear if it will work.

The General Assembly had three weeks to fix the map and send it to Governor Tom Wolf for approval after the court voted to rule the old map unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

The justices didn’t provide a full explanation of their order until the middle of this week.

Top Senate GOP lawyer Drew Crompton argued the delay wasn’t helpful, although it ultimately didn’t much change the legislature’s approach to the map-redrawing.

“They didn’t answer some of the questions that I thought they would,” Crompton said, explaining why lawmakers waited for the final opinion before drafting maps in earnest.

Now it’s too late to pass anything through the legislative process, which would take at least two full days.

So, the legislature’s presiding officers–Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai, both republicans–are collaborating on a map of their own.

Their current plan is to submit it to Wolf without a vote from the full legislature.

House and Senate Democrats haven’t been involved in the process in any significant way; Wolf has been part of some very limited talks, according to Crompton.

Crompton said leaders tentatively plan to call members back to weigh in on the draft early next week, after the deadline has passed.

He said they’re potentially willing to take feedback from the governor before that happens.

“The desire is to have legislation,” he said. “We realize the timeline doesn’t work now. We still would like the opportunity to submit a map by Friday.”

They haven’t decided if the map submission will be made public.

The Court’s opinion stipulates that congressional maps should be “composed of compact and contiguous territory; as nearly equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population.”

In other words, lawmakers have to make the districts less sprawling and winding, and they have to make sure they’re not excessively dividing up towns and cities.

Crompton said GOP map-drawers are taking those guidelines to heart.

They’re also being cognizant of what he called the “confusion factor”–not suddenly moving too many people into new districts with new representatives.

But they’re not looking at efficiency gaps–a measure of partisanship in a district. And in fact, Crompton said they’re not acknowledging partisan splits at all.

“We’re working at kind of a breakneck speed,” said Neal Lesher, a spokesman for Turzai. “Staff have been working late into the evenings, early in the mornings.

“I understand that there’s a notion that drawing these maps is just kind of a flick of a couple keystrokes on a computer,” he added. “But it’s more intense than that when you’re trying to get a deliberative body on the same page.”

It’s unclear if the courts would accept the republicans’ planned approach.

House Speaker Dave Reed–who hasn’t been privy to map negotiations because he’s running for congress–said the court’s initial order seemed to leave open the option of having leaders submit maps without a vote from the legislature. But, he said, the full opinion appears to preclude it.

“When I read the opinion last night, they were fairly clear that that they expected, if the legislature chose to respond, that it should be through enacted legislation,” Reed said.

Wolf’s response to the plan was vague.

A spokesman said if the General Assembly “does not pass a fair map by the court ordered deadline, Governor Wolf will evaluate his options.”

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