Pennsylvania House Speaker Sam Smith is hoping for a vote by the end of this year on his bill to eliminate 50 legislative seats.
Smith’s measure would shrink the House from 203 to 153 members, and take effect in 2022. His primary motivation, he said, isn’t ideological, but rather practical: a smaller chamber would be easier to manage, and more efficient. “To be totally candid, [a smaller size] is one of the reasons the Senate as an institution seems to be able to kind of build their consensus and move more quickly when they decide to,” he said during a Capitol press conference.
The legislation is a constitutional amendment, so it would need to be passed into law in two consecutive sessions, and then clear a statewide voter referendum. If all that happens, the House would shrink during the next redistricting period. “You do a constitutional amendment, you’re already like four or five years into the next 10-year cycle,” Smith said. “And I also felt that [the delay] might take away some of the kind of parochial – are you giving up your seat? – mentality by saying it’s a little farther off.”
Major opposition to a reduction typically comes from rural lawmakers, who worry constituents in their larger districts would go underserved in even bigger boundaries. Smith represents Jefferson County, and conceded he felt that way for a long time, but that his view has evolved during his time in leadership. “To some of the people that those of us in rural Pennsylvania represent, that say this would – a smaller legislature would take away from the rural community representation, I would say that no, that really happened in the mid-60s,” he said. That’s when the House eliminated its county-based seat structure in response to a United States Supreme Court ruling mandating every state lawmaker represent roughly the same amount of constituents.
Smith doesn’t expect a hearing or vote before this year’s budget passes, but he wants the House to consider his measure this fall.