ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The fate of legislative districts in the Commonwealth for the next decade hang in the balance, as new boundaries are being drawn up and sorted out in Harrisburg.
Every 10 years, following the census, legislative districts are redrawn to reflect changes in the population.
Last month preliminary maps were approved for Pennsylvania's 50 senatorial and 203 representative districts.
"In my many years of service as a house member, this has been the most fair and open process I've seen,” Rep. Robert Freeman, who represents the 136th Legislative District, remarked during a hearing on Friday.
However, the proposed maps are drawing criticism from both sides of the aisle.
"The proposed Senate maps in the Lehigh Valley are not a reflection of what's in the Valley's best interest,” Sen. Lisa Boscola, who represents the 18th Senatorial District, says.
She railed against the proposed boundaries at Friday’s hearing and says the plan super packs Democrats into one seat and super packs Republicans in two other Senate seats in the Lehigh Valley.
Boscola says it’s gerrymandering, and that voters will be disenfranchised.
"The new 14th is plopped in the heart of the Lehigh Valley and carving up our two largest cities and school districts to suit Harrisburg's needs; not the needs of these communities,” Boscola says. “The separation of West Bethlehem and merging it with the larger portion of Allentown and the newly created 14th seat needs to change."
Meanwhile, Freeman is protesting the prospect of moving Hellertown out of his 136th District.
“Placing Hellertown in the 131st District would place it in a Lehigh County and Montgomery County-based district that Hellertown would have little association with; resulting in Hellertown being an afterthought; dominated by communities with different needs,” he says.
Rep. Craig Staats, who represents the 145th Legislative District, says “The proposed maps are a classic example of partisan gerrymandering, and that must be stopped.”
Staats says the maps clearly divide communities of interest, violating the Commonwealth's Constitution.
“One example is here in the 145th Legislative District, where East Rockhill has been drawn out of the district. Anyone who knows the area knows that Perkasie, Sellersville, East Rockhill and West Rockhill have long been one community of interest and should have one representative,” he says.
There are public comment hearings scheduled for Friday and Saturday next week. People can go to the Pennsylvania Redistricting website for more information on the hearings and to submit comment.