For decades, the municipalities of East Greenville, Green Lane, Marlborough Township, Pennsburg, Red Hill and Upper Hanover Township have been molded together under the common thread of being part of Pennsylvania’s 147th legislative district. In January 2012 that could change.
The proposed break up of the far northwestern Montgomery County communities was presented by the Pa. Legislative Reapportionment Commission as part of unveiling of the proposed reapportionment plan presented on Oct. 31.
The members of the commission are President Judge Emeritus Stephen J McEwen, Jr., of Pennsylvania’s Superior Court, Chairman; Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-9), House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-28), Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-43), and House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-33).
Under the plan, East Greenville, Pennsburg, Red Hill and the first precinct from Upper Hanover Township would move from the 147th legislative district, currently represented by Republican Marcy Toepel, to the 131st, currently represented by Republican Justin Simmons. Prior to the current proposal, those municipalities were nestled in a district that boarded the Montgomery County line.
The majority of the 131st district will cover the southern end of Lehigh County and reach into northwestern Montgomery County and southwestern Northampton County.
Green Lane, Marlborough Township and precincts two and three of Upper Hanover Township will remain in the 147th district.
Legislative districts are targeted to represent between 60,000 and 62,000 people. The populations of East Greenville, Pennsburg and Red Hill were needed by the 131st district and precinct one in Upper Hanover was required to be added due to the requirement that all municipalities in a district be contiguous.
The proposed change comes with some concerns for local residents. As the municipalities are broken up between legislative districts and counties, some fear a loss of community identity and influence on state or county issues.
According to Luanne Stauffer, president of the Upper Perkiomen Valley Chamber of Commerce, “The plan extricates the heart of our business community from our core constituency which handicaps our ability to serve as an advocate for our region…we’ll be split at the geographic tail-end of two legislative districts.”
Marcy Toepel, who has represented the 147th for the past two years, would rather her district didn’t change at all.
“While not desirable, sometimes municipalities need to be split in order to get to the targeted number for each district … the reality of the situation is that every ten years, the district lines are redrawn. I will still work with many of the same people,” she said.
She added that Rep. Simmons is a “highly capable representative who I’ve worked with closely and will continue to do so.”
Toepel is a member of the House Consumer Affairs, Health, Judiciary and Local Government committees.
Rep. Simmons shares Toepel’s view that the region could be better served with two legislators. Simmons worked for former State Senator Rob Wonderling and current State Senator Bob Mensch in the 24th Senatorial district which encompasses both the 147th and 131st House districts.
Simmons, who says he’s is ideologically similar to Wonderling, Mensch and Toepel, remarked that “I am excited about this opportunity...We all work very well together I can only think that having two voices working for the same community would only help. I’m really looking forward to the challenge of representing this new area.”
Simmons plans to attend public meetings and “knock on doors” to introduce himself to the people of proposed addition to the 131st.
Simmons is a member of the Education, Human Services, Insurance and Urban Affairs committees.
According to a press release issued by the Pa. Legislative Reapportionment Commission, “All persons aggrieved by the preliminary plan may present their exceptions to the Commission for consideration in the preparation of the final plan. All exceptions must be in writing and contain the name of the individual group, a signature, mailing address, and daytime telephone number.”
Exceptions must be received by the commission on or before November 30, 2011. Exceptions must be sent to: Charles E. O’Connor, Jr., Executive Director, 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission, 104 North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120.
A public hearing on exceptions will be held on Friday, Nov. 18 at 12 noon, in Hearing Room #1, North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120. People seeking additional information on the hearing should contact O’Connor at (717)705-6339.
A copy of the preliminary reapportionment plan is located on the commission’s website: www.redistricting.state.pa.us.