New Castle News

John K. Manna

June 14, 2014

John K. Manna: Legislative cuts considered

NEW CASTLE — There is some momentum in Harrisburg to reduce the size of the Pennsylvania Legislature.

Although there has been talk for years about eliminating House and Senate districts, the idea has not progressed very far in the Legislature. However, legislation to reduce the size of both chambers is getting some serious attention.

Last week, the Senate State Government Committee reported out two bills, one of them amending a measure sponsored by Sen. Elder Vogel and the other that passed the House.

Because the state constitution must be amended to alter the size of the Legislature, the bills must be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions and then approved by the voters.

Vogel’s bill proposed reducing the Senate from 50 to 30 districts and the House from 203 to 121 districts. His amended bill proposes reducing the number of Senate districts to 45.

The House portion of his bill was stricken in favor of the measure sponsored by House Speaker Sam Smith. The amended bill cuts the number of House districts to 153.

Vogel, who represents Lawrence County, said he agreed to the amendment because he received “a lot of pushback” from people of rural areas arguing that the districts would be too large under his original proposal.

Vogel’s proposal would have increased the population of a Senate district from approximately 254,000 to about 423,000. A House district would have increased from a population of about 65,500 to around 105,000.

The measures that came out of the Senate committee would increase a Senate district to a population of about 282,000 and a House district to approximately 83,000 people.

The increases would not alter districts that dramatically and they would still be manageable.

For example, if the changes were in effect, the 9th House District — represented by Chris Sainato — would cover most of Lawrence County. That is, if the redistricting gods reconfigured the 9th to stay within the county’s borders.

The district now covers nearly three-fourths of the county’s population.

Those who argue against reducing the legislature claim there wouldn’t be much cost savings since larger districts would require legislators to have bigger staffs.

Pennsylvania is second only to New Hampshire in the size of its legislature.

California, which has three times the population of Pennsylvania, has a total of 120 legislators: 40 in the Senate and 80 in the Assembly. So, isn’t it conceivable that Pennsylvania could somehow handle 198 legislators?

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