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First Step Toward Trimming Pennsylvania Legislature

State House members have approved a bill that could eventually eliminate 50 seats in their own chamber and 12 seats in the state Senate.

Both Democrats and Republicans voiced opposition to the proposal in a floor debate that stretched on for three days. They say cutting the number of House lawmakers from 203 to 153 will mean constituents have a harder time getting a hold of their representatives.

Other opponents say reducing the number of lawmakers won't save the state as much money as cutting staff could. Representative Kathy Rapp (R-Forest County), who's against eliminating legislative seats, said she was miffed to hear about some colleagues having six or seven state-paid staff members apiece.

"When I have the second largest geographic district and don't have that many staff members — if we want to savings, maybe we should look at the number of staff members people have in their districts," Rapp said. "That certainly is one way to cut down the expenses of this House."

Still others worry shrinking the Legislature would concentrate power in the hands of the House leaders.

Speaker Sam Smith (R-Jefferson County) the bill's sponsor, said that wouldn't happen.

"While it may be counter-intuitive, I can tell you that, as a member of leadership, that it will work just the opposite," Smith said. "The larger the body, the easier it is to carve out and divide."

Representative Greg Vitali (D-Delaware County) said shrinking the legislature only appears to be a good government move.

"It's an easy bill to vote for, because I think the feeling of most people is, 'I hate politicians. This means less politicians, therefore, I like this bill,'" said Vitali.

The measure passed the House 140-49 and now goes to the Senate, but because the bill is a proposed constitutional amendment, it will have to be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions and then approved by voters in order to take effect.