House OKs Smith’s bill to trim state Legislature

HARRISBURG — The state House voted Wednesday 140-49 to cut its own ranks from 203 to 153, and to reduce the number of senators from 50 to 38.

“I believe that by reducing the size the House, it will make the legislative process more efficient, because members would communicate better and understand the other person’s problem,” said Speaker of the House Sam Smith (R-Jefferson/Armstrong/Indiana), who authored the bill. “And I think that will create better legislation at the end of the day.”

With 253 members, the Pennsylvania General Assembly is the second-largest in the country.

With a current population of more than 12.7 million people, the proposed 153 House districts each would represent about 83,022 people, which Smith said is not a significant change from 62,573 with the current 203 districts.

While the overall number of legislators would be reduced under House Bill 153, according to Smith, the ratio of representation between urban and rural areas remains equivalent.

During his floor remarks, Smith noted that communication has made the world grow ever smaller in a relative sense, while the number of people in a legislative district has remained essentially static.

Even members of the 1968 Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention argued there is no need to maintain a House composed of 203 members in order to serve the representative function of the body. And that was before the days of e-mail and social media, which have made communication so much easier and instantaneous.

“Real-time communication with multiple friends and neighbors back in our legislative districts is as different from the telephone system of 1968 as that system was to the Pony Express,” Smith said. “In order to right-size Pennsylvania’s government, the legislature needs to put its own house in order.”

To change the size of the legislature requires an amendment to the state constitution, which means the same bill must be debated and passed in two consecutive sessions and subsequently approved by referendum vote of the people of Pennsylvania.