Plan to shrink Pa. House advances
A local legislator’s proposal to give voters a chance to reduce the number of state representatives is moving forward in Harrisburg.
The Pennsylvania House State Government Committee recently voted in favor of HB 153, which was introduced by state Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-124th.
Knowles’ proposal is to reduce the number of state representatives to 151 from 203.
The approval, which passed with a vote of 14-10, saw the Republican majority supporting the bill and the Democratic minority opposing it.
The vote came after a hearing during which Democrats tried unsuccessfully to add an amendment to appoint an independent commission to set the state’s legislative districts.
Knowles said during the hearing the key to his proposal is the decision rests with the residents of Pennsylvania, whom he referred to as “the legislators’ bosses.
“Our bosses, the legislators’ bosses, will be the ones making that decision,” Knowles said. “When it goes on the ballot in the form of a referendum, your bosses will decide whether they want to have 151 members of the House of Representatives, or 203.
“So that is the main point in this thing — the people will get to make that decision, the voters of Pennsylvania.”
The bill now moves to the full House for a vote but voters will make the final decision in a statewide referendum.
If the House and Senate approve the bill in time, voters could have a chance to vote on the referendum in November.
Knowles’ proposed amendment calls for the reduction to take place in 2022, when legislative districts will be redrawn using data from the 2020 census.
To amend the Constitution, the House must pass the exact same bill during two different legislative sessions.
HB 153 was passed overwhelmingly by both the House and the Senate in the 2015-16 session.
The House voted 139-56; the Senate voted 43-6.
To hold a referendum, the House and Senate must pass the exact same legislation in the 2017-18 session.
If passed by both, the proposed amendment would need to be advertised in two newspapers in each county of the commonwealth at least 90 days before the election.
Knowles said he would like the bill to be on the ballot for voters this fall.
The state government committee also advanced a similar bill to give voters the chance to reduce the size of the Senate to 38 seats from 50. But unlike Knowles’ bill, this needs to be passed again in the 2019-20 session.
The majority of the hearing dealt with an amendment to the bill proposed by Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-148th.
This amendment would have created an independent commission to redraw the legislative districts, if the reduction in the house size was passed.
Legislators are currently in charge of creating new maps. The process takes place every 10 years following the census.
State Rep. Matthew Bradford, D-70th, who supports reducing the size of the House, supported the amendment because he said the majority party at the time would wield an unfair power over the opposition.
“The potential for mischief-making becomes quite problematic,” he said.
Knowles said he opposed the amendment because it would basically put the reduction process back to square one, but said the reapportionment of House seats will come up in Harrisburg again.
“They are two completely different issues,” Knowles said. “And, I believe that by holding this legislation hostage, you are making a big mistake. I believe this is getting the foot in the door.”