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GOP seeks more control over legislative redistricting

HARRISBURG – State House Republicans who just lost a key vote on new preliminary legislative district maps moved Monday to regain more control of the process by advancing a GOP friendly constitutional amendment that would utterly revamp Pennsylvania’s redistricting process.

The State Government Committee passed, on party lines, a plan to replace the existing Legislative Reapportionment Commission with an 11-member panel of appointees that would have a distinct Republican slant under the state’s existing political dynamic.

The House and Senate, both now controlled by Republicans, would get the final say.

Most committee members did not attend the early morning session. The ranking Democrat, Rep. Scott Conklin of Centre County, called the Republican-controlled committee meeting part of a larger Republican effort to consolidate and hold power.

“This is an absolute erosion of democratic values within the state of Pennsylvania,” he said after the vote. “They have unleashed an attack on the separation of powers.”

The committee chair and bill’s sponsor, Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, said the appointees under his proposal would not be “politicians who have a vested interest in what these maps look like.” Most would be selected by legislative leaders.

Currently, the four caucus leaders in the two chambers are developing new legislative district maps with a fifth member chosen by the Democratic-majority state Supreme Court.

But under the bill, the four caucus leaders would each choose two members.

Two others would be chosen by a vote among counties, which are predominantly controlled by Republicans. The final member would be selected by judges of Commonwealth Court, which currently has a GOP majority.

A plan would need at least seven votes to pass.

Rep. Maureen Madden, D-Monroe, said Grove’s proposal would “rig the system in perpetuity for the party in power.”

“Let’s get this ball rolling,” said Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon. “Let’s get this out of committee. Because no discussion happens in Pennsylvania unless there’s a bill on the table to talk about.”

House Republicans are unhappy with preliminary district lines passed 3-2 by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission last month.

The commission’s redrawn House districts are generally considered more favorable to Democrats than the existing map, which reflects several decades of post-census realignment controlled by Republicans.

Republicans currently hold the state House, 113-90, as well as the Senate, 29-21.

As a constitutional amendment, Grove’s proposal must pass the Senate this session and both chambers in the 2023-24 session before going to the public as a referendum as early as spring of next year.

Republicans have recently turned repeatedly to constitutional amendments to get around Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

Also Monday, the committee voted on party lines to allow poll watchers at voting places outside their home counties and to give the Legislature control over how constitutional amendments and other statewide ballot questions are worded.


Localnews
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Bridgeville man charged in Capitol assault negotiating plea deal
  • Updated

Courtesy of U.S. Department of Justice

Kenneth Grayson

The Bridgeville man accused of leading a group of local people to Washington, D.C., and then live-streaming a video of himself inside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 assault on Congress is negotiating a plea deal with federal prosecutors that could be finalized next month.

The attorney for Kenneth Grayson said during a status hearing in federal court Monday afternoon that he and his client are reviewing a plea offer and may be able to come to an agreement by Feb. 23, when the next hearing is scheduled.

“This is a case where Mr. Grayson is probably going to resolve (the charges) short of trial,” federal public defender Davis Bos said. “I still need to review (the plea deal) a little more carefully.”

Terms of the plea deal were not made public during the brief hearing before U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, D.C., which was held through video conferencing. Bos said he still needs to review portions of the offer from federal prosecutors and resolve “some issues” with the deal.

Grayson, 52, was arrested Jan. 26 after an acquaintance notified federal investigators that they saw a Facebook video he posted of himself carrying a Gadsden “Don’t Tread On Me” flag inside the basement Crypt area of the Capitol. Federal prosecutors said he acted like a “ring leader” bringing a group of people to the nation’s capital for a rally in support of former president Donald Trump before they marched to Congress and allegedly participated in the riot.

Court documents also accused him of traveling to Washington, D.C., on Nov. 16, 2020, and participating in violent protests against the presidential election results in which he allegedly texted an acquaintance that he beat people with a flag pole and left one person unconscious. However, he is not currently facing charges in connection with that incident.

Grayson was charged with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds; disorderly conduct which impedes the conduct of government business; disruptive conduct in the Capitol buildings; parading, demonstrating, or picketing in the Capitol buildings; and obstructing or impeding any official proceeding. He has been free on $25,000 unsecured bond since his arrest last January.


Coronavirus
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COVID cases surpass 40,000 in Washington County; new COVID deaths in Fayette
  • Updated

The number of COVID-19 cases in Washington County has surpassed 40,000, the state Department of Health reported on Monday, and 867 new COVID cases were recorded over the weekend.

New cases increased about 226% from the average two weeks ago, and as of Monday, 94 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19, with 18 of those patients in ICUs, according to DOH data.

While cases continue to skyrocket, no new deaths were reported in the county over the weekend, and the death toll remains at 535.

In Fayette County, four people died from COVID-19 over the weekend, bringing the total number of COVID deaths to 550.

There were a total of 254 new cases reported in the county over Jan. 8 and 9, and 40 people were hospitalized, with eight of those in ICU and on ventilators.

In Greene County, there were 38 new COVID cases, with no new deaths over the weekend.

The county has experienced the highest average cases of the pandemic this month.


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