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In Harrisburg, At Least 3 Proposals to Trim PA Legislature

Although Pennsylvania is the sixth most populous state, it has the largest full-time legislature in the nation with 253 members (203 in the House, 50 in the Senate).

At least three different proposals to reduce the size of the General Assembly are floating around the state capitol.

The Speaker of the House, Rep. Sam Smith (R-Jefferson County) said he will introduce two measures: one that would reduce the House to 153 members, and the other to shrink the Senate to 38.

Last year another bill by Smith to downsize the House was amended to include a reduction in the Senate.  The House approved that bill, but it died in the Senate. 

Drew Crompton, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson County), said the size of the House is “kind of off the charts” when looking at state legislatures across the country.

“Usually you’ll see a House that is either two or three times the size of a Senate …  I don’t know if there’s any equivalent of four times as large,” Crompton said.

Two senators have introduced separate bills to downsize both chambers.

Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) said her measure, SB 336, would make the legislature “a modern governing body” by trimming the number of House districts from 203 to 121 and Senate districts from 50 to 40. That would make for a 3-to-1 House to Senate ratio.

“It’s very hard when you have this many legislators to get enough people on board to move forward on issues that are of critical importance to Pennsylvania,” Schwank said. “Things like transportation and economic development, all of them are hampered by having too many people involved in the decision making.”

Sen. Elder Vogel, Jr. (R-Beaver) is proposing even deeper cuts to his chamber. Vogel’s SB 324 would also trim the House to 121 members, but he wants to reduce the Senate to 30 districts. His measure would cut the legislature by 40 percent but maintain the current 4-to-1 ratio of representatives versus senators.

Changing the size of the General Assembly requires a constitutional amendment, so any of these bills would have to be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions and then approved by voters through a ballot referendum.

Of the 10 states with full-time lawmakers, Massachusetts also has a 4-to-1 House-Senate ratio — 160 to 40.  The other eight states have ratios between 2-to-1 and 3-to-1.

There are 22 states where elected officials spend two-thirds of their time on legislative work. Of those, one (Connecticut) has a 4-to-1 House-Senate ratio, and two states (Texas and Missouri) have 5-to-1 ratios.

Of the 17 states with part-time bicameral legislatures, New Hampshire has the highest ratio — 400 representatives and 24 senators, or nearly 17-to-1.