Pennsylvanians moved a step closer Wednesday to being able to decide whether to shrink the size of their Legislature, following a vote in the House of Representatives in favor of a constitutional amendment.
The House voted 140-49 to cut their own ranks from 203 to 153, and to reduce the number of senators from 50 to 38.
The proposal remains a long way from being enacted, because it still would have to pass the Senate in the current session, be approved again by both chambers in the next two-year session and then pass a voter referendum.
“This legislation is about us doing a better job,” said Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, the sponsor. “To those who say it’s not enough reform, it’s not real reform, well, it wasn’t proposed as the end-all to reforming the legislative world.”
Smith promoted the bill as a way to improve efficiency and communications among representatives and said it could also produce some cost savings over time.
But opponents said it would hurt rural areas and make it more difficult for people to engage their lawmakers.
“It’s something that feels good, it’s something that sounds good,” said Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence. “But this will have a direct effect, especially on rural Pennsylvanians. Don’t let that fool you.”
Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, said the bill would further expand her already sprawling district, with implications for constituent services that legislators provide.
“We have to be very cautious about what we’re doing concerning a balance of power between the legislative and executive branches,” Rapp said.
Some disputed that the proposal will reap much in savings, beyond the salary and benefits of the people whose districts would be eliminated.
“The first thing that will happen is, legislators covering larger districts will add more staff, add more offices, and there really won’t be any cost savings,” said Rep. Martin Causer, R-McKean.
The reduction in numbers would take place after the reapportionment to follow the 2020 census.
During three days of debate, the House rejected proposals to cut the Senate to 30 members or to combine the chambers into a unicameral body of 407 districts that would meet in January, February, June and July.
Smith said that if the Senate strips out the provision that cuts its size, the measure should still have enough support to pass the House.
Read more: http://lancasteronline.com/article/ap/618777_Pa–House-approves-measure-to-reduce-Legislature.html