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Politics & Government

Bills to Shrink Legislature Receive Committee Approval

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
State lawmakers attend a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in Harrisburg, Pa. as Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Pennsylvania legislators are again trying to reduce the size of the state House of Representatives and Senate, with a pair of bills that would be the first steps toward amending the state constitution.

House Bill 153 proposed to reduce the House of Representatives from 203 members to 153, while House Bill 384 would shrink the Senate from 50 to 37 seats.

Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny, Washington), a co-sponsor of the bill affecting the house, said he visited other states of comparable size and population including Ohio, which has 99 representatives and 33 senators.

“Their smaller Legislature actually has real debate on the floor, it’s more efficient, and it’s just a better way to govern, whereas ours … is chaos,” Saccone said. “By the time we actually get to the floor, most minds have been made up and … very few people listen to the actual debate on the actual floor of the house.”

Co-sponsor and House Speaker Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) said his party has already pushed for reforms of government agencies such as the Liquor Control Board, and now it’s time to look inward.

“The right thing is to reform the House of Representatives and show people that we’re not only talking the talk but we’re walking the walk,” Turzai said.

Bills with similar language have passed the state House in the last two sessions but did not receive affirmative votes in the Senate. If the proposals pass both legislative chambers in two consecutive sessions, they will be put to a voter referendum.

Both Turzai and Saccone said they understood they could be effectively voting themselves out of office by supporting the legislation.

“I’ve always said from the beginning when I ran for this office that I’d be happy to vote myself out of a job and vote many others out of their jobs, since that’s what the people seem to want,” Saccone said. “If those seats are combined and I’m one of the ones that’s eliminated, I’m fine with that.”

Both bills received approval from the State Government Committee Tuesday, largely along party lines. Rep. Cris Dush (R-Indiana, Jefferson) voted against both bills while Rep. Michael O’Brien (D-Philadelphia) voted for the Senate reduction bill. However, HB 153 does have two Allegheny County Democrats among its co-sponsors, Rep. Dan Deasy and Rep. Dom Costa. Neither immediately responded to a request for comment.