State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

On the merge: return of the unicameralist

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Aug 19, 2013 10:57 PM
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As some state lawmakers suggest the Legislature could stand to lose a few seats, one is proposing the equivalent of gastric bypass surgery.

The ill-starred bid comes from Rep. Jaret Gibbons (D-Beaver), who wants to to make like Nebraska and reduce the General Assembly to a single-chamber body.

"I can give a half-hour lecture on the pros and cons of unicameral versus bicameral," said Gibbons. He kept it to 10 minutes last time he spoke on the House floor about dissolving the Legislature's need for the two distinct bodies.

That effort to advance the idea failed, so the Beaver County lawmaker is reintroducing his plan to rid Pennsylvania of the Senatorial saucer and House's hot teacup system, modeled after the U.S. Congress.

Popular legislation is already getting icy treatment, Gibbons said, because of each chamber's tendency to pass their own versions of similar bills.

"All of a sudden, even though both sides supported the bill that was the same or similar, it doesn't actually become law," Gibbons said. "So really, sometimes that breaks down legislation that both chambers might support."

Like other unicameral evangelists, Gibbons said checks and balances don't go out the window when there's no second chamber.

"I think it would make the legislators have to put more thought behind their vote," Gibbons said. "I think oftentimes pieces pass out of the house and we realize that it's probably going to not go anywhere or have significant changes in the Senate."

He acknowledges such a structure runs the risk of bills moving too quickly through the deliberative process, but maintains it would eliminate duplication and produce cost savings.

"My estimate is, at least, about 30 to 35 percent reduction we can save by doing this," said Gibbons. The roughly $90 million estimate is based, Gibbons said, on the experience of Nebraska after switching to a unicameral legislature. One significant way in which Nebraska differs from Pennsylvania: its legislature is nonpartisan.

The plan, along with dissolving the two separate chambers, would reduce the number of overall districts from 253 to 201. Gibbons concedes the bill is a long shot, but it also reflects the current zeitgeist. A March Quinnipiac poll shows disapproval of the state's General Assembly is near its all-time high.

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