By Rep. Steve Mentzer (R-Lititz)
Could having 52 less legislators make it easier to reach agreement and pass a balanced budget on time? I agree with both the former Speaker of the House Sam Smith and our current Speaker of the House, Mike Turzai in supporting the concept of a reduction in the size of the Legislature.
In order for this constitutional amendment to be brought before the voters, it must pass the Legislature in two consecutive sessions. Last session, both chambers of the Legislature approved legislation calling for a state constitutional amendment that would reduce the size of the House from 203 to 151 seats. This session House Bill 153 was introduced by Rep. Jerry Knowles and I am a co-sponsor. If both chambers approve it again during the 2017-18 session, voters will get to decide the matter in a statewide referendum.
Let me be clear, to amend the state Constitution, identical legislation must pass the House and the Senate in two consecutive legislative sessions. The key here is the word identical. If a word is changed or the content is changed, the bill reverts to square one and the two-session clock starts all over again. This means House Bill 153 would need to be passed this session in the exact form as last session.
I see firsthand and hear from my constituents all the time about the adverse effects of a large bloated government. Reducing the size of the Legislature would be a great first step as we lead by example. The reality is that there is no rhyme or reason to the House having 203 seats in the first place. 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.
Currently, each House member represents approximately 62,000 constituents. Under this downsizing plan, that would increase to 84,000. I believe serving 84,000 constituents is very reasonable and would not have an adverse effect on service to Pennsylvanians.
There have been many proposals in addition to just reducing the size of the House of Representatives, many of them I would support. House Bill 153
is before us now and I am of the mindset that achieving half of what you want is better than nothing at all. I strongly support this measure, and I am pleased that Rep. Knowles and all the co-sponsors are working hard to convince House leadership to bring the bill up for a vote.