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United States: Pennsylvania Moves Toward Rare Constitutional Change

(Dec. 31, 2013) On December 17, 2013, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved two bills that would amend article II, section 16 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania to reduce the membership of both houses of the state legislature, the General Assembly. (The Constitution of Pennsylvania, art. II, § 16,, Pennsylvania General Assembly website (last visited Dec. 27, 2013).House Bill 1234 would reduce the size of the House from 203 to 153 members, while House Bill 1716 would reduce the size of the Senate from 50 to 38 seats. (H.B. 1234, 2013-2014 Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Pa. 2013); H.B. 1716, 2013-2014 Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Pa. 2013).)

Despite passage in the House, under the Pennsylvania Constitution’s article XI, both bills have a long road ahead of them before they could become constitutional amendments. (The Constitution of Pennsylvania, art. XI). First, the bills would have to be passed by the state Senate after it reconvenes on January 7. (Id.) The bills would then have to be passed again by both the Pennsylvania House and the Senate in the next elected General Assembly. (Id.) The matter would then be placed on the ballot for consideration by Pennsylvania voters. (Id.) If approved, the amendment would be implemented in the first General Assembly that follows the reapportionment. (Id.)

Such changes to the size of a state legislative body have become rare in recent years. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a non-governmental organization that provides 50-state policy and legislative research to state legislators and their staff, 34 states altered their size during the 1960s and 1970s, but only five states have done so since 1990. (Sizes of Legislatures, National Conference of State Legislatures website (last visited Dec. 26, 2013).)