Law Might Put PA Legislature On The Chopping Block

Law Might Put PA Legislature On The Chopping BlockHARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s Legislature is massive, unwieldy and expensive, but House Speaker Sam Smith has a simple solution with the potential to address all three issues, The Pennsylvania Independent online news service reported Tuesday (Dec. 17, 2013).

Cut the number of legislators.

Smith of Jefferson County on Monday (Dec. 16) kept pushing a populist proposal to reduce the number of state lawmakers by about 25 percent. One of Smith’s bills would reduce the state House from 203 members to 153.

This is the second consecutive session Smith put forth his idea, The Independent said. The previous effort passed his chamber but dissolved in the Senate after House members amended the resolution to reduce the upper chamber, too. This time, the two chambers are uncoupled. A separate bill, also sponsored by Smith, would pare the 50-member state Senate to 38.

The big question is whether lawmakers have the appetite to reduce their ranks.

State Rep. Gerald Mullery of Luzerne County, a proponent of several reforms to the Legislature, has said he would, pointing to costs that could be saved with an accompanying reduction in lawmakers’ staff. As of 2009, the state Legislature’s 2,918 permanent staff members were the most in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“This is another way that we could provide some form of financial savings to the commonwealth,” he told The Independent. “If that means potentially eliminating some jobs at the bureaucratic level, I think that’s something that we may have to do.”

The road there won’t be quick. Smith’s measure would require an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution. That means the bills must pass in two consecutive legislative sessions, then approved in a public referendum.

“Ultimately, nothing happens unless the general public approves it,” Smith said.

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