Pennsylvania House votes to shrink statehouse

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, December 20, 2013

The Pennsylvania House agreed on Tuesday, Dec. 17, that less is more when it comes to the size of the General Assembly.

Currently, the Keystone State has the nation’s second-largest legislative body with 253 members – second only to New Hampshire’s 424.

Pennsylvania House lawmakers voted by a three-to-one margin to send a legislative package to the Senate that would trim the House from 203 members to 153 members and the Senate from 50 members to 38 members.

Critics of the slim-down say that the changes are unnecessary and that reducing House districts would weaken the voice of rural areas.

But House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, said that reducing the number of members would make the General Assembly more efficient in debating and deliberating legislation. He said members would have a better understanding of how issues are viewed differently in different areas.

“It has become pretty evident that reaching a consensus with 203 people on major and controversial issues has proven more difficult in recent times,” Smith recently said in a news release.

Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, said the change would result in “less chaos ... and more actual, robust debate.”

The bills – HB1234 and HB1716 – await further consideration in the Senate. The chamber won’t reconvene until early January.

Making changes in the General Assembly requires a constitutional amendment. Any constitutional change must pass in two consecutive sessions before going to the public for a vote.

“Ultimately, it is the people of Pennsylvania who will decide whether or not to reduce the size of the General Assembly,” Smith stated. “We have started the process.”

If ultimately approved, the district changes wouldn’t take effect until after the 2020 reapportionment.

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