COMMENTARY – On December 17, 2013, the PA House of Representatives passed two bills. House Bill 1234 (passing 148-50) and House Bill 1716 (passing 150-48). H.B. 1234 would reduce the number of representatives in the House from 203 to 153. And H.B. 1716 would reduce the number of senators from 50 to 38.
The reduction in representatives would mean that each member of the house would represent, on average, 83,022 people in the Commonwealth instead of the 62,573 they do now.
Called by some a way of “grandstanding" by Speaker of the house Rep. Sam Smith (R-Jefferson/Armstrong/Indiana). He denies this and feels that “A small legislature would be more efficient."
"I introduced this constitutional amendment because I actually believe that this body will do a better job of legislating,” said Smith.
A few thoughts come to mind.
On one hand, the vote itself says something important about those in the House. Passing 148-50, this comes to 198 members voting. Which begs the question, where are the other five members who didn't vote? And there were 148 members who voted for the legislation, while there were 150 who voted for the Senate version of this member reduction bill. Which means at least two people didn't want their jobs cut but were okay with the jobs in the senate being cut.
Another thought that comes to mind is that most people in the state don't feel their elected officials adequately represent them on the state or federal level. Therefore, each representative will simply have more constituents to ignore.
Its also interesting to note that Pennsylvania has, with its 253 members in the Pennsylvania General Assembly is the second-largest in the country. The largest being New Hampshire, which has 424 members in their legislature. Pennsylvania boasts a population of 12.7 million, while New Hampshire has 1.321 million. This means that in New Hampshire, each person represent a little over 3100 people. They can practically be on a first name basis.
Kind of hard to ignore Fred's wife Tilly when she stops by the office and say “Now Herman, you know you shouldn't vote for that tax increase.”
Then again, this may be another reason for those in office to make this cut. So they don't have to actually know their constituents. A little too provincial for their high brow tastes possibly?
Smith justified his attempts to reduce the number of House members by saying that “communication has made the world grow ever smaller in a relative sense, while the number people in a legislative district remained essentially static.” He says that email and social media “have made communication so much easier and instantaneous.”
thsi may be true. And it may be true that it will reduce cost by only paying 153 representatives. But I have always believed in the old saying "Never judge a man's actions until you know his motives." And right now, I don't see what his motives are. Is he grandstanding? Is he working on re-election already by pushing legislation that has little chance of being signed into law? Or does he believe in what he is doing?
In order to actually change the size of the legislature, it requires an amendment to the state constitution. And in order to do that, the same bill must be debated and passed in two consecutive sessions, and be subsequently approved by referendum vote of the people of Pennsylvania.
“Ultimately, it is the people of Pennsylvania who will decide whether or not to reduce the size of the General Assembly,” Smith said. “Today we have started the process.”
As Smith says, it is up to the people to decide whether or not to reduce the size of the General Assembly. And the people are always deeply involved in the election process. And they always come out to vote. And they always make the best and most informed decision at the polls. Right? [Insert sound of crickets chirping here.]