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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bills to Downsize Legislature Pass House

(News Release) HARRISBURG – Two bills to reduce the size of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and the Senate passed the House today, Speaker of the House Sam Smith (R-Jefferson/Armstrong/Indiana) said. Both bills now head to the Senate for consideration.

House Bill 1234, authored by Smith, would reduce the House of Representatives to 153 members from 203 and passed by a vote of 148-50; House Bill 1716 would reduce the Senate to 38 members from its current 50 and passed by a vote of 150-48.

“A smaller legislature will be more efficient,” Smith said. “A smaller legislature means state government will be more productive and more responsive. This bill will bring a greater level of understanding between the people crafting legislation. The end product will be more responsive to the needs and concerns of the people of Pennsylvania.”

With 253 members, the Pennsylvania General Assembly is the second-largest in the country (New Hampshire’s legislature consists of 424 members).

With a current population of more than 12.7 million people, the proposed 153 House districts each would represent about 83,022 people, which is not a significant change from 62,573 with the current 203 districts.

While the overall number of legislators would be reduced under House Bills 1234 and 1716, according to Smith, the ratio of representation between urban and rural areas remains equivalent.

According to Smith, communication has made the world grow ever smaller in a relative sense, while the number people in a legislative district remained essentially static. Smith further noted that members of the 1968 Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention argued there is no need to maintain a House composed of 203 members in order to serve the representative function of the body. And that was before the days of email and social media, which have made communication so much easier and instantaneous.

Smith explained that his previous measure to decrease the size of the House, House Bill 153, was amended last year to include the Senate. That legislation failed to pass the Senate, thus the reason for introducing two separate bills now. “My primary focus is on the House of Representatives, which is the larger of the two bodies,” he noted. “The bill to reduce the size of the Senate is now before that chamber for deliberation so they can decide how best to move forward.”

To change the size of the legislature requires an amendment to the state constitution, which means the same bill must be debated and passed in two consecutive sessions, and subsequently approved by referendum vote of the people of Pennsylvania.

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

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