Pennsylvania Capitol

The United States flag waves in the wind at the Pennsylvania Capitol building Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Harrisburg.

The following editorial appeared in The (Scranton) Times-Tribune. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune-Democrat. 

Republicans on the House State Government Committee approved a major reform last week but rendered it meaningless by rejecting an even more important reform.

On a party-line 14-10 vote, the committee voted to send to the full House a state constitutional amendment to reduce the number of seats in the chamber from 203 to 151. 

If approved by the full House and Senate, the amendment then would be presented to voters as a referendum.

Pennsylvania has the nation’s largest full-time state legislature, with

203 representatives and 50 senators. 

It costs about $350 million a year, so the reduction is warranted on economic grounds. But the more important objective is to improve governance by making the chamber more manageable and giving more weight to each representative’s vote.

While approving the amendment, the Republican majority on the committee rejected an even more important initiative that would better ensure the effectiveness of a smaller House. 

It voted down a Democratic amendment to eliminate gerrymandering by creating an independent commission to remap legislative, senatorial and congressional districts every 10 years.

Reapportionment is controlled by a few legislative leaders, who repeatedly have demonstrated that they do so in their own interest rather than in the interest of fair elections and good governance.

The state Supreme Court on Jan. 22 threw out as unconstitutional the horribly gerrymandered congressional district map that the Republican legislative majorities concocted in 2011. It ordered that new, fairer districts be established by Feb. 15. 

But the ruling applies only to the existing map, not to the process.

It is crucial that Pennsylvania follow the growing national trend to take redistricting out of the hands of self-interested politicians and put it in the hands of an independent commission. 

Leaving redistricting with politicians means that a smaller House will have 151 seats, rather than 203, still representing districts that are crafted for the majority party’s advantage.

Fairly drawn districts are needed to ensure that there are fewer perpetually “safe” seats, more competitive elections, and governance based on the broad public interest rather than the narrow interests of legislative leaders.

Independent redistricting must attend any reduction in the Legislature’s size. 

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