Bethlehem Press

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Commissioners support redistricting reform bill

Tuesday, March 14, 2017 by Mark Reccek Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

The Lehigh County Board of Commissioners took a bold step at the Feb. 22 meeting by passing a resolution supporting redistricting reform.

The 8-1 vote specifically lends support to naming an independent citizens commission for redistricting. The commission would consist of 11 persons, four from the state’s majority party and four from the minority party. The remaining three would come from any political party. The Pennsylvania Secretary of State would elect the members.

Commissioner Amanda Holt voted in opposition.

Commissioner Dan Hartzell, co-sponsor for the bill, expressed support for the legislation.

“This is something that has been picking up public steam,” he said of the issue of redistricting, or gerrymandering. “It’s not something new. It’s been going on for 200 years.”

Commissioner Brad Osborne, while saying he believes redistricting reform is needed, expressed concern with the adequacy of information provided in the draft resolution.

Commissioner Percy Dougherty said he was confused about the nature of the resolution. Dougherty nevertheless said he supported the bill, adding that he likes the intent.

“I do agree the system is broken,” Dougherty said. “It’s not working.”

Hartzell asked the board to move forward.

“Let’s try something different,” Hartzell said. “It almost can’t be worse.”

Holt said she could not vote for the resolution unless there was language included indicating an independent commission.

Hartzell said Northampton County Council passed a similar resolution recently.

“My feeling is we can do better,” Hartzell added of redistricting reform.

“We’re looking at one of the moral crises affecting our democracy,” Commissioner Geoff Brace said of the current status of redistricting.