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Fight for shrinking House map begins

With confirmation this week that Pennsylvania will lose a congressional seat and an electoral vote in upcoming elections, the struggle for a favorable map has already begun.

It’s unlikely that any of the Central or Southwestern Pennsylvania Republicans will lose a seat in redistricting — the process of drawing a new map that

reflects the new electoral reality. With the GOP solidly in control of the House, the lawmakers who draw congressional maps will be unwilling to punish their own party.

Instead, they could draw a map to rope two Democrats into a new district, potentially pitting them against each other and ending the state’s current 9-9 partisan divide in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Political analysts had long assumed Pennsylvania would take a hit in the latest U.S. Census, which found Southern and Western states growing at a faster pace than those in the Rust Belt. Pennsylvania has steadily lost its share of national political power for decades as population growth accelerated elsewhere.

The process by which states trade political power after the Census is called reapportionment.

While the GOP benefits from the change at first glance, there are roadblocks to a reapportionment victory. Gov. Tom Wolf could veto a map that egregiously punishes his own party, or gerrymanders districts to create a partisan imbalance.

Some Democrats are already asking the state courts to prepare to step in if both sides reach an impasse.

State Republicans are still smarting over the current congressional map, approved by the state Supreme Court in 2018. While that map more closely reflected the voting divide (the previous, GOP-approved map gave the party 13 seats despite getting fewer votes), it drew allegations of an unfair seizure of lawmakers’ power.

Attempts to redraw — or, in the extreme, to gerrymander — Pennsylvania’s districts could run up against internal population transfers as well. In the past decade, residents have moved out of rural northern and western counties and into more populous Philadelphia suburbs and the Susquehanna valley.

Those suburbs helped deliver the state handily to then-candidate Joe Biden in November.

Rep, feds back work safety rules

A state lawmaker says he’ll propose new policies to ensure grocery workers are protected from infectious disease, as federal regulators prepare potential mandatory workplace safety rules for the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a memo to colleagues this week, Rep. Patrick J. Harkins, D-Erie, said he plans legislation to ensure workers in grocery stores are protected from infection. While he did not detail the policies, Harkins said it would include best practices that cover social distancing, store cleaning and paid sick leave.

The bill would “help protect some of our lowest-paid workers who are keeping our households and this economy moving,” he said.

The United Food and Commercial Workers, a union representing many grocery employees, says more than 170 grocery workers have died nationally and thousands have been sickened amid the pandemic.

The proposal comes as the Biden administration moves forward with plans for new workplace safety regulations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration could soon impose mandatory rules, including that businesses have to provide workers masks and make plans to deal with infectious disease.

The rules come as COVID-19 cases are down in most areas and vaccines are rolling out. But they follow a long period of relative inaction: Under former President Donald Trump, OSHA declined to impose mandatory rules and reportedly cut back on inspections.

Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers, owner of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette.

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