PITTSBURGH - A panel charged with redrawing Pennsylvania's legislative map was urged at a public hearing Wednesday to consider the impact of its revisions on the number of women serving in the state Capitol.
"Women may lose ground in this redistricting process,'' said Dana Brown, the executive director of Chatham University's Center for Women and Politics.
Brown and others noted that Pennsylvania ranks 42nd among states in that regard, with women comprising just 17.4 percent of the Legislature.
Heather Arnet, executive officer of Pittsburgh-based Women and Girls Foundation, noted that it's a longstanding problem, since Pa. ranked 43rd among states in 1975.
About 15 politicians and members of the public spoke at the heading at the Duquesne University School of Law, and several also asked that Pittsburgh's House District 22 be kept intact.
According to the 2010 Census, Allegheny County's population declined by 4.6 percent from 2000 to 2010, while the state population increased by 3.4 percent. That means Allegheny may be a prime target for the commission, which could cut a legislative seat there and give it to an area that saw growth.
Annette Shimer of the League of Women Voters said the group still supports the principle that legislative districts be created ``mostly by population.'' She praised the commission for creating a public website on the process, but said that's not enough. Shimer said a preliminary map of suggested district changes should be put on the website as soon as possible, and asked for five additional public hearings after that.
The commission members gave no formal response to that question or others, saying the purpose of the hearing was for them to listen.
Boalsburg resident Christopher Lee questioned the integrity of the current process, saying that he didn't believe the founders of the commonwealth meant for democracy to be about creating safe legislative districts so incumbents could be re-elected.
The five-member commission, which includes the four legislative floor leaders, redraws the boundaries of state legislative districts every 10 years. After the two Democrats and two Republicans from the Legislature couldn't agree on a chairman, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court named Superior Court Judge Stephen J. McEwan.
This is the fifth time since the 1970 census that the state has employed a commission to redraw the boundaries of the 203 House districts and the 50 Senate districts to equalize the distribution of voters.