Pennsylvania House approves plan to shrink Legislature

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HARRISBURG -- Proposals to reduce the membership of the General Assembly cleared the House on Tuesday, a first step in the lengthy process of amending the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Senate Democrats and Republicans have their own proposed amendments to create smaller legislative chambers, and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said members will discuss the issue when they reconvene in January.

While the proposals by House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, Sen. Elder Vogel, R-New Sewickley and Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, contain different numbers for the smaller legislative chambers, Mr. Pileggi said he believes the differences could be resolved.

"Once we get a support level for the concept of reducing the number of members in the General Assembly and the Senate, I think we can quickly reach agreement on what that lower number should be," he said.

The memberships of the House and Senate are set in the state Constitution, so changing them requires a particular proposal passing both chambers in two consecutive legislative sessions and then winning approval from voters.

Mr. Smith's proposal to cut the House from 203 to 153 members passed 148-50, while his proposal to cut the Senate from 50 to 38 members passed 150-48.

The House speaker has said he believes the size of the Pennsylvania Legislature makes it difficult for members to find common ground.

"We may not always agree, but I believe that we will do a better job if there is a smaller number of us, because we will have a better understanding of what the other person's problems are or what their constituents' views are," he said Tuesday.

State representatives who opposed the change said larger districts would make it more difficult for officeholders to serve constituents and for candidates without money and connections to win. If the state's current population were represented by a 153-member house, districts would grow from about 62,500 people to about 83,000 people.

Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence, said he won election without much money by knocking on doors and talking to people at events.

"You want a district with 83,000 people, you cannot do that," he said. "That's not how you will get elected. It will be the political bosses. It will be those people with the money that are going to pick and choose who the representative is."

The House last year passed a proposal to shrink the memberships of both chambers, but the Senate did not act upon the bill.

Karen Langley:, 1-717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley.

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