By Rep. Steve Mentzer (R-Lititz)
Last session, both houses of the Legislature approved legislation calling for a state constitutional amendment that would reduce the size of the House from 203 to 151 seats. If both houses approve it again during the 2017-18 session, voters will get to decide the matter in a statewide referendum.
Unfortunately, the measure does not include reducing the size of the 50-seat Senate, leaving the General Assembly with 201 representatives and senators. That would leave a needlessly large and expensive full-time legislature but, clearly, the proposal is the best option on the table.
Legislation aimed at reducing the size of the House passed both the House and Senate last year, but as many of you know, it often takes many attempts to successfully move legislation into law that makes sweeping changes to anything in Pennsylvania.
Amending the state constitution is necessary in order to reduce the size of either chamber of the General Assembly. To amend the constitution, identical legislation must pass the House and the Senate in two consecutive legislative sessions. Once that is accomplished, the question is placed on the next election ballot as a referendum for the people.
I strongly support this measure, and I am pleased that House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) has stated one of his primary goals this session is to move that legislation and get it on the next statewide ballot as soon as possible.
I hear all the time that our government is too big, and costs too much in taxpayer dollars to operate. That’s what this bill is all about – downsizing and streamlining processes to operate more efficiently at a potentially lower cost to taxpayers.
The reality is that there is no rhyme or reason to the House having 203 seats. In fact, the final number was the result of a map drawing mistake after the 1968 Constitutional Convention. Drafters just didn’t fix the map and settled on 203; that sort of says it all.
The Pennsylvania Senate is different type of animal. Unlike the U.S. Senate — which was created to resolve a representational dispute among small and large states — the state Senate does not settle any representational issue. Senate districts are merely larger versions of House districts.
Currently, each House member represents approximately 62,000. Under this downsizing plan, each House member would represent about 84,500 residents.
As I mentioned, the measure only reduces the size of the House. A measure to also reduce the size of the Senate was passed by the House last year, but the Senate only brought the measure reducing the size of the House up for a vote.
While reducing the size of both chambers would be ideal, I am of the mind that half of what you want is better than none of what you want. I am hopeful other legislators feel the same way.