Committee Hearing for Senate Bill 22

On March 27, Senate Bill 22 was considered in the Senate State Government Committee, along with three other redistricting reform bills.

A packed committee room listens to testimony
A packed committee room listens to testimony

In a hearing that stretched to almost four hours, SB 22 received by far the most comment and discussion. Sponsors of two other bills, Senators Blake and Costa, expressed support for SB 22 and offered their own as backups if SB 22 is not passed through the legislature in time to be in place for redistricting in 2021.

HIghlights of the hearing included:

FDPA Legislative Director Pat Beaty described SB 22 in detail and made clear that our concern is with a fair, transparent process: “an independent commission will not be as biased or politically motivated as the General Assembly when they draw the lines.”

FDPA Chair Carol Kuniholm made clear that redistricting reform will be an election issue. The question will be: “Does this body believe the state constitution, that we the people have the right to alter and reform our government, or does this body represent the party leadership who say NO?”

Senator Judy Schwank described the effort toward reform as “a major test of our democracy: how we respond as a legislature will be that test.” She noted: “leadership is elected by a small group of people, yet they have a huge impact across the state.” She commended FDPA for insisting on permanent reform in the shape of an independent redistricting commission, despite the lawsuit and subsequent new congressional map, and concluded “This is the change we need.”

Minority Chair Senator Anthony Williams emerged as a champion of reform, insisting that while all of life is political, it’s possible to find solutions to a situation that is “clearly out of control.” He emphasized the political and demographic diversity of Fair Districts PA and remarked: “Your organization represents the best of what we want our citizens to do.” He described the hearing as a significant event and affirmed that the legislature could pass reform quickly if “information rather than ignorance” drives the conversation.

There were many good questions and comments from all senators in attendance, with suggested improvements or additions to be considered as the bill moves forward.

Committee Chair Senator Mike Folmer mentioned more than once that he voted against the congressional map back in 2011.

Our next step is to secure a commitment from Senator Folmer to schedule SB 22 for a committee vote in the month of April, followed quickly by approval by the full Senate.

A video of the full hearing, as well as links to written testimony, are available here. Testimony by Carol Kuniholm begins at 2:26, followed by Pat Beaty and questions directed to both FDPA representatives for the remainder of the hearing.