House OKs bill to shrink state Legislature

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HARRISBURG -- The state House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a bill to shrink the General Assembly by 62 seats, sending the constitutional amendment one step farther than past attempts to reduce the number of state lawmakers.

That proposal from Republican House Speaker Sam Smith was the subject of debate for much of the session week before it was approved on a vote of 140-49.

Most of the chamber's GOP legislators, who control the House, backed the proposal, while Democrats were divided on the plan. It aims to reduce the number of House lawmakers to 153 from the current 203, and it was amended earlier this week to reduce the 50 senators to 38.

Some rural lawmakers said they opposed the change because they were concerned about increasing the size of districts to encompass an additional 20,000 residents. Mr. Smith, of rural Jefferson County, countered that lawmakers would be better able to communicate with each other and represent their constituents' views in a smaller chamber.

He pointed to the significant support for the bill as a positive signal that the state constitution could be amended for the first time since 2003.

"The fact that we got it out of the House with 140 votes gives it a better-than-average chance" of continuing to move forward, Mr. Smith said after the vote.

Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Moon, who has introduced proposals to shrink the Legislature since 2006, credited the influx of new legislators in recent years with boosting interest in the proposal.

The bill now awaits consideration in the Senate. A spokesman for Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said the senator supports reducing the size of the General Assembly.

Reducing the legislative ranks requires passing a bill in two consecutive sessions and then gaining approval from voters.

If the proposal gains a second round of approval next session and on a referendum vote, it would affect how many districts are drawn following the 2020 census.

state

Harrisburg Bureau Chief Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254. First Published April 5, 2012 8:45 AM


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