Bill That Shrinks PA Legislature Moves Forward

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Pennsylvania has the largest full-time legislature in the country.(AP Photo/Chris Knight)

HARRISBURG, PA (WSKG) — The state House has moved to change the commonwealth’s constitution and drastically reduce the size of the legislature. However, there’s no guarantee voters will see the amendment on their ballots come election day.

Pennsylvania has the largest full-time legislature in the country–and for years, lawmakers have sought to change that.

Supporters of the proposal say cutting the number of representatives would make government more efficient–and probably save money.

And, bill sponsor Jerry Knowles noted, the ultimate decision will be up to voters.

“The people of Pennsylvania should make this decision,” he told his colleagues on the House floor.

But most Democrats, and a number of rural Republicans, maintain a smaller legislature would make it harder for constituents to be heard.

“This bill is a mistake,” said GOP Armstrong County Representative Jeff Pyle, who abandoned his sick leave to return to Harrisburg and vote against it.

“Frankly,” he said, “I was not sent here to be manageable. My people back home kind of appreciate that I’m not.”

Chris Sainato, a Democrat from Lawrence County, accused fellow lawmakers of only voting for the amendment because it sounds good on paper.

“You’ve heard this for years,” he said. “It was always the easy thing to do–you were going to run for office and cut the size of the legislature. That sounds real popular. Yeah, it’s popular when you no longer see your representative and now you’ve got to see a staff person.”

The original plan would have quartered the House complement, shrinking it from 203 members to 151.

That’s the version that passed last session.

But an amendment tacked on this year would have also shrunk the Senate from 50 to 38.

In order to get on the ballot, identical versions of constitutional amendments have to pass each session, so as it stands, the bill would have to get through yet another session of votes.

If senators–who largely oppose reducing their own ranks–strip out the amendment that affects them, and that bill then passes the House, the effort might survive.

The Senate has not indicated what it plans to do.

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