Pa. House Votes to Downsize … Itself

Why does that chamber have 203 seats? A mapmaking gaffe that stuck.

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The Pennsylvania House passed two bills Tuesday that would shrink the size of the General Assembly — reducing House seats from 203 to 153, and reducing the number of Senate seats from 50 seats to 37.

“There is no magic in the number 203,” Rep. Jerry Knowles, a Republican who sponsored the House-reduction bill, said in a memorandum to colleagues.

AP reports the bill would trim $15 million in annual operating costs from the state budget.

If enacted, the change would add about 22,000 people to a typical state House district, now at about 62,000. Opponents argued that will make it more difficult for lawmakers to respond to individual constituents, particularly in more sparsely populated, rural areas.

“In my mind, it will empower the special interests and lobbyists,” said Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon.

The bills move to the Senate. AP notes that neither chamber has passed a bill to reduce the legislature’s size in the same year as the other. Even if this is the year both chambers approve a reduction, that’s no guarantee it will become law. Gov. Tom Wolf said last year during the election campaign that he does not favor such a reduction, even though Pennsylvania is one of three states with a full-time legislature, and ours is the largest of the three.

So wait. Why does the House have 203 members?

“In fact the final number of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is the result of a map-drawing mistake after the 1968 Constitutional Convention,” Knowles said in his memorandum. “Once the final map was drawn, it was noticed that instead of 201 seats they had 203. The drafters of the maps did not want to draft another map so they left the number at 203.”

An oopsie for the ages.

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