HARRISBURG — State Rep. Sam Smith already has renewed a call to slash the number of members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by about one-quarter, but he says he will also propose cutting the number of state senators in the General Assembly.
Smith, who serves as speaker of the house, is renewing an idea that he proposed in the last session — and one that other lawmakers have floated from time to time in the Legislature — but said he believes he is raising the idea with enough to get the support it needs to pass both the House and Senate before the end of the current session in November 2014.
Many times the idea been debated; rarely has it made progress.
“There have been bills introduced over the years to reduce the size of the Legislature in some shape or form, but last year was the first time it’s been voted on in my years in the Legislature,” Smith said. “While it is not a new idea, it’s the first time someone has pushed it to a vote.”
Changing the number of elected representatives and senators can be accomplished only by an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution. An amendment must be approved by both houses of the Legislature in two consecutive sessions, then win approval of state residents in a voter referendum before it would take effect.
Smith, of Punxsutawney, believes he is allowing plenty of time for lawmakers and state residents to understand and get behind the proposal: He is calling for enactment nine years from now, with the reapportionment that would follow the 2020 Census.
“That’s a way of minimizing the personality issues, the question of ‘whose districts are you getting rid of?’” Smith said. “You can’t get it done much faster than that. It sounds slow, but when you think of it, waiting for the reapportionment keeps things in cycle.”
This time, Smith said he feels confident that the idea can pass because he is working hard to get support for it.
“I think it has been a lack of commitment to get it fully considered,” Smith said. “I have just put a little more effort into it and have been serious about it, and pushing it for a vote.”
Smith’s proposals would reduce the House from 203 to 153 members and the Senate from 50 to 38.
He said his true interest only is in cutting the number of representatives, but his proposal to do that in the 2011-12 legislative session, House Bill 153, was amended to include a reduction of the Senate.
“Personally ... if people want to reduce the size of the Senate, that’s fine, that’s their prerogative,” Smith said. “That’s not my primary interest — it is reducing the size of the state House. But it was amended to do that and I felt it may have been considered a negative towards the Senate.”
The measure ultimately was approved in the House but died in the Senate without a vote before the session ended in November.
“We’re at square one,” Smith said. “I believe they didn’t act on it because it was late in the session when we got it over there, and because I don’t think they were that interested in reducing the size of the Senate.”
In the new 2013-14 session, Smith rewrote and introduced his idea in House Bill 1234, which has been assigned to the House Committee on State Government since June 3.
But last week, Smith announced he would sponsor a companion bill to separately propose reducing the number of senators.
“I reintroduced my bill and after talking to some people, we thought it may be good to run a separate bill to reduce the size of the Senate so these two issues, while similar, could be kept separate,” Smith said. “I think that may make the Senate a little more willing to look at my primary interest of reducing the size of the House.”
Smith’s second proposal at this point is in draft form and has yet to be formally introduced, numbered and assigned.
“We’re going to hopefully run those bills out of the house in September or October. That would get them to the Senate a little bit earlier,” Smith said. “I think if they have a few months to digest it and come to the grips of what it means – not that it’s a complex issue, but they still have to measure it.
“I think that reducing the size of the House has a pretty good chance. I don’t think the Senate is so cumbersome at 50 members, so I don’t think they’re too interested in reducing the size of the Senate.
“But the House, at 203 members, I think they recognize that is a bit cumbersome and all of us would be better served if we had a smaller House,” Smith said.