Bethlehem Press

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Gerrymandering: Scrounging for cosponsors

Monday, October 10, 2016 by Bernie O’Hare Special to the Bethlehem Press in Opinion

State Senator Lisa Boscola is the prime sponsor of a senate bill (SB484) to eliminate gerrymandering in Pennsylvania by establishing an independent citizens’ commission to draw the boundary lines for Congressional and state legislative seats every 10 years. Republican Dave Parker, a state representative from Monroe County, has offered a virtually identical bill in the state house (HB 1835).

At the time of a recent gerrymandering forum at Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethlehem, there were few cosposnors. But the list has grown, and includes most Lehigh Valley legislators.

The House Bill had 21 cosponsors prior to the forum. There are now 27 (12 Republicans and 15 Democrats). Locally, they include Bob Freeman, Mike Schlossberg, Dan McNeill, Pete Schweyer, Justin Simmons and Steve Samuelson. Schlossberg, Simmons, Schweyer and McNeill are relatively new to the state house. But Samuelson and Freeman have been steadfast advocates and cosponsors of redistricting reform legislation.

Marcia Hahn, Joe Emrick, Gary Day and Ryan MacKenzie have thus far declined to cosponsor this legislation.

The Senate Bill has grown from 12 cosponsors prior to the forum to 14.

They include all three senators representing the Lehigh Valley. Lisa Boscola is the prime sponsor, but has been joined by Republicans Pat Browne and Mario Scavello. Browne chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee, and is widely regarded as one of the most influential legislators in the state.

Both bills are in their respective state government committees. Boscola said a redistricting reform bill was in a government reform committee, but went nowhere because Republican and Democratic leaders used proxies from absent members to kill the bill.

According to Common Cause’s Barry Kauffman, Pennsylvania is considered by academics to be “one of the most reform-averse states in the nation.” It took him 17 years to get an open records law enacted. “If they see citizens want to lead, they will follow,” he said.

Boscola said the only real way to effect this change is by both targeting leaders and insisting that your legislator cosponsor the bill.

“Don’t just ask a senator or a representative, ‘Are you for this?’ A lot of the time, they’re gonna say yes. If they say yes, then say to them, ‘Cosponsor that bill. I want to know that you’re really supportive.’ ... They’ll say yes because they know this bill isn’t coming up for a vote. So they can hide. But once you put your name on a bill, you’re not hiding anymore. You’re supportive, because you’re on the record.”