“There’s also two other branches of government that need to be reduced also, in my opinion,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati.
This week, a Senate committee passed resolutions to eliminate 55 legislative seats and several appellate judgeships. Even the executive branch of government was not exempt. The proposed legislation would eliminate the position of Lt. Governor. Proposed constitutional amendments to shrink the size of government across the three branches have been sent to the full Senate for consideration.
Scarnati’s plan would reduce the state Supreme Court from seven to five seats and cap the Superior Court at 11 members. Without a Lt. Governor, Scarnati’s plan provides for a special election to replace a governor who leaves office, with the Senate President Pro Tempore filling in.
Scarnati currently holds that position in the senate and filled the Lt. Governor’s office after Lt. Governor Catherine Baker Knoll died in 2008.
Pennsylvania attorneys and political observers expressed shock and disapproval over Senate bills. “I think it caught a lot of us by surprise that the judiciary was included in that mix,” John J. Hare, chair of the appellate advocacy and post-trial practice group at Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin in Philadelphia told The Legal Intelligencer. “I had no idea that they were going to bring the judiciary into this and I think [cutting judgeships] would be really unfortunate.”
Both reduction measures passed unanimously out of committee -- one bill addressed the House, the other addressed the Senate, judiciary, and lieutenant governor.
Senators said their concerns could be debated without slowing down the lengthy process ahead. A constitutional amendment must first pass the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions, and then clear a voter referendum.
Not everyone is enamored with idea of reducing the size of the legislature. Opponents say the dangers include moving access to state lawmakers farther away from constituents, diluting the representation of rural areas, and the overstated cost savings projections.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His new book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010: The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words and Executions of 46 Persons in the United States is now available from McFarland & Company publishers.