House vote kills proposal to shrink size of Pa. Legislature

Mark Scolforo
Associated Press
FILE - This Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, file photo shows the Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

HARRISBURG – A proposal to shrink the number of lawmakers in the Pennsylvania Legislature was killed Monday by a procedural vote in the state House, a quick death for a proposal that has lingered for years.

The House vote of 114-76 was the last stand for supporters trying to keep alive the constitutional amendment as the current two-year session nears a close.

Constitutional amendments in Pennsylvania must be passed with the exact same language in two consecutive sessions before they can go to voters as a referendum.

The amendment that passed in the last session would have shrunk the House alone, from 203 members to 151. Supporters were trying to strip out language that was subsequently added to also cut the Senate from 50 to 38.

House Republican leaders who control the chamber said after the vote that supporters will have to start over next year.

The floor debate Monday barely touched on the relative merits of the proposal, which backers have said was aimed at making the chamber operate more efficiently, and perhaps, reap a modest cost savings.

Instead it focused on fine points of House rules, under which the bill had recently been changed to add back in cuts to senators – a poison pill given the House-only vote in the last session and the Senate’s consistent opposition.

Rep. Steven Mentzer, R-Lancaster, said House members had “one more chance to have this bill placed on the ballot, simply placed on the ballot so the people of Pennsylvania can decide what size they want their Legislature to be.”

Rural parts of the state would see their representation diminished by a smaller House, argued Rep. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson.

“We’re supposed to be a representative republic, and that means getting the representation in the people’s house the closest and most intimate it can be,” Dush said.

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Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, argued that lawmakers should have a clean vote on a House-only bill.

“The people of this state deserve a straight-up vote on the language that was passed last time, so folks can be on the record on where they actually stand on the issue,” Reed said.

In the procedural motion, Democrats voted unanimously in favor of the position that effectively killed the bill’s chances, while Republicans were split.

Pennsylvania has the second-most lawmakers of any state, behind only New Hampshire, and the most of any full-time legislature.