Proposal to shrink Pennsylvania’s General Assembly falters before final vote
A proposal to shrink the Pennsylvania General Assembly seemed destined to fail Monday without a scheduled vote on what is likely the last day it could be approved in time to get on the November ballot.
Pennsylvania’s 203-member state House is the largest full-time legislative body in the country, and legislators have the second-highest salaries. House Bill 153 would give voters the option in November to reduce the House to 151 members.
Leaders were expected to recess for the summer Monday. With no vote on the bill, it wouldn’t appear on ballots this fall.
A handful of Republican legislators held a news conference Monday morning to call for a last-minute vote on the bill. State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, challenged leaders’ integrity if they don’t call the vote.
“The people of Pennsylvania deserve the opportunity to see who has integrity in this body,” Metcalfe said. “If leadership does not call this vote up today, it’s on them.”
The bill would amend the state Constitution. To do that, legislators need to approve the same bill two sessions in a row and then put it to voters through a ballot referendum. Each session lasts two years.
One hundred and thirty-nine state representatives voted last session to approve the bill, and 117 of them are still in the Legislature.
Metcalfe accused some legislators who voted for the bill last session of pushing behind the scenes to avoid taking another vote on the bill.
“I’m laying blame on those 117 members who voted for this last session because they never thought it would come up this session,” Knowles said.
The bill would eliminate a quarter of the state’s House districts during the redistricting process that will happen in 2021. Most Democrats oppose the bill because it isn’t tied to any redistricting reforms, House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton said.
“There’s concern among Democrats that this would just intensify the problems of gerrymandering across the state,” Patton said.
The state Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the state’s congressional district map, drawn by Republican leaders in 2011, was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit the party. The same leaders in the Legislature draw state district maps as draw the congressional maps.
“Without redistricting reform, that process will be done entirely by an insular group of legislative leaders,” Patton said. “They will have the final say in which legislative districts are consolidated or totally eliminated.”
Members of both parties have supported reforming how redistricting is done to put a committee of citizens in charge of the process instead of legislative leaders. The Senate passed a bill two weeks ago with some reforms, but House members attached hundreds of amendments to the bill, decreasing the likelihood it would get a vote before the summer recess.
Knowles said redistricting is a “completely different issue,” which voters would have to approve in a separate referendum.
The state General Assembly is the nation’s second-largest after New Hampshire’s, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Its members are the second highest-paid after California, at $86,479 per year with per diem payments of $179. California’s legislators make about $104,000 per year and get an additional $183 in per diem payments while in session, according to online politics tracker Ballotpedia.