HARRISBURG -- The House of Representatives will debate this week whether, following the reapportionment process at the end of the decade, there should be fewer seats in that chamber.
One of the bills in the queue for the final session days before the April 24 primary is the aptly named House Bill 153, which would shrink the number of state representatives to 153 from the current 203.
House Speaker Sam Smith, a Jefferson County Republican who is sponsoring the proposed constitutional amendment, says the reduction would make the body more efficient by improving communication among members and cutting costs.
It's not the first time in recent years that state politicians have pondered voting themselves and their colleagues out of office -- various proposals have been floated in past sessions, particularly in the aftermath of the 2005 pay-raise vote -- but Mr. Smith's plan may be the first to receive serious consideration.
"I suspect the general reform mindset and the mood of the public makes people a little more serious," Mr. Smith said.
Past proposals have drawn scrutiny from rural legislators, who fear that as districts grow in square mileage, the concerns of the more scarcely populated areas of the commonwealth become diluted.
Mr. Smith, himself a resident of rural Punxsutawney, said he shared that view in the past. But as he watched new housing developments reshape some rural areas to look like the neighboring suburbs, that concern has faded.
The proposal cleared a House committee in January with bipartisan support. If the bill gains approval from the full chamber this week, it still would face several hurdles before it could dictate how many districts are drawn in the 2020 reapportionment process.
It would go first to the Senate, where Mr. Smith said he hopes senators would amend in a reduction for their own chamber. A pending Senate proposal would allow for 40 Senate districts instead of the current 50, and calls for reducing the legislative budget by 20 percent.
Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, would like to see that issue move forward, said Erik Arneson, his spokesman.
Proposed constitutional amendments must pass in two consecutive sessions, so the proposal also would need to clear another round of votes next year, and then be approved by voters.
One vocal critic of the Legislature, Eric Epstein of the grass-roots group Rock the Capital, described decreasing the number of lawmakers as "the most appetizing but least effective option" for government reform.
"Shrinking the Legislature may actually consolidate power into fewer hands, increase the influence of lobbyists and allow senior staff to run the show," Mr. Epstein said, adding that the number of legislative staffers and the size of lawmaker benefits also should become smaller.
Harrisburg Bureau Chief Laura Olson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-717-787-4254.