Constitutional convention, redistricting among town hall topics
About 30 people turned out Thursday evening for state Sen. John Eichelberger Jr.’s town hall meeting in Antrim Township building.
During the hour-long meeting, constituents were invited to write their questions for Eichelberger on index cards and he responded to a variety of topics, including the state budget; the effects of tax shifting from property to sales and income; school district budgets and retirement costs; dam failures; and potential improvements to local infrastructure such as the widening of Interstate 81.
But there were two issues that seemed to intrigue the majority of residents: Eichelberger's proposed limited constitutional convention bill and the state justice's action on the current congressional map.
In October, Eichelberger, whose district includes Greencastle and Antrim Township, and Rep. Stephen Bloom of Cumberland County, called for a constitutional convention to allow citizens to weigh in on the legislature.
They proposed legislation would give voters the opportunity to decide via ballot referendum whether a convention should be called and would focus the delegates on specific sections of the state constitution covering the legislature, legislation, executive branch and judiciary.
"The last time we had one was 50 years ago," Eichelberger said. "We have never asked the public if they wanted to have one in the last 50 years."
Eichelberger said now is the time. "We've lost a lot of the checks and balances in the executive branch of government," he said. "If we could do a more efficient way of operating the government, I think we should take a look at it."
Eichelberger also spoke to the possible redistricting plan, which could potentially affect his bid to replace U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster who is not seeking re-election in the 9th Congressional District. Under the current congressional map, the district includes all of Bedford, Blair, Fayette, Franklin, Fulton and Indiana counties and parts of Cambria, Greene, Huntingdon, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court voted 4-3 to declare the current congressional map unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, claiming it was drawn to favor Republicans and discriminate against Democrats, and ordering the map redrawn in time for the primary election in May.
Eichelberger said that would hold state legislators to a Feb. 9 deadline to redraw the lines so that Gov. Tom Wolf could approve it by Feb. 15.
If the court’s timeline isn’t met, the justices will draw a new map.
"It's gonna be difficult to ... put it together in a short period of time," Eichelberger said.
He said the legislature plans to file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the current boundaries through this election cycle.
"The state constitution gives this responsibility to the legislature, not the judiciary. We don't think they have any basis at all, but they did it," Eichelberger said. "This is a very dangerous precedent for us to be in. Our Pennsylvania Supreme Court has overstepped its authority and done things nobody every thought would happen."