Smith envisions smaller, more efficient Legislature
HARRISBURG - House lawmakers are headed to another vote this fall on reducing the size of the General Assembly, an exercise that may seem at first glance like another exercise in windmill-tilting.
Separate bills approved last week by the State Government Committee would reduce the House from 203 to 153 members and the Senate from 50 members to 38 members. The House approved a bill last session to jointly reduce the size of both chambers, but it died in the Senate.
The bill sponsor, House Speaker Sam Smith, R-66, Punxsutawney, believes the issue will have a better shot in the Senate if two separate measures are sent over.
Smith's sponsorship makes this effort different from previous size-reduction bills over the years, as he approaches this issue from a different perspective. As both a former majority leader and minority leader, Smith knows what it's like to round up votes for a bill. Having fewer representatives would make the job easier, he said.
"Reducing the number of members would make the General Assembly, and the House in particular, more efficient in its ability to debate and deliberate legislation by allowing members to have a better understanding of how issues are viewed different in different areas," Smith said. "It has become pretty evident reaching a consensus with 203 people on major and controversial issues has proven more difficult in recent times."
The speaker dwells less on any potential cost savings from a reduction, which is an attractive prospect for others.
"In addition to the cost savings that could be implemented, the House and Senate would be easier to maintain from an administrative standpoint," said Rep. Marty Flynn, D-113, Scranton, who voted for the bill in committee.
This bill is a proposed constitutional amendment ultimately requiring statewide voter approval to take effect.
One thing voters should be aware of is that the size reduction is being debated in the abstract. The reduction in districts wouldn't take place until after the next 2020 legislative reapportionment, which is intended to reflect population shifts in the U.S. Census.
This process would follow the current reapportionment guidelines of having districts with compact and contiguous territory as nearly equal in population as possible, and avoiding splits of municipalities unless absolutely necessary.
But the result would still be the biggest change in state legislative representation since the county-based House districts were replaced by districts more reflective of a "one person, one vote" rule after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the 1960s.
(Robert Swift is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.)