State Legislative Tracker: Pennsylvania leaders looking to shrink Legislature

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April 16, 2012

Edited by Greg Janetka

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This week's tracker features a spotlight on the Pennsylvania State Legislature, where lawmakers are trying to reduce the size of both chambers.


This week 26 out of 50 state legislatures are meeting in regular session. No states are scheduled to convene this week while four states - Arizona, Iowa, Maine and Nebraska - are expected to adjourn.

Seventeen states have adjourned for the year, while four states - Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Texas - will not hold regular sessions in 2012.

Current sessions capture for the week of April 16, 2012

Regular sessions

See also: Dates of 2012 state legislative sessions

The following states convened their regular legislative sessions:

The following states have ended their regular session:

Click here to see a chart of each state's 2012 session information.

Special sessions

Snapshot of State Legislatures:
Monday, April 16, 2012
There are 7,384 Total State Legislators
Total Democratic state legislators 3,299 (44.7%)
Total Republican state legislators 3,964 (53.7%)
There are 99 Total State Legislative Chambers
Total Democratic Party-controlled chambers 36
Total Republican Party-controlled chambers 58
Total tied or nonpartisan chambers 5
2012 Session Information
Total Special Elections 19
Total Special Sessions 8

In 2011, special sessions were a widespread occurrence in state legislatures. This was largely due to states' having to complete the redistricting process for legislative and congressional districts. Overall in 2011, there were 45 special sessions in 28 states.

Since the beginning of 2012, there have been 8 special sessions in 5 states. Two are ongoing while one is scheduled.


Gov. Sean Parnell (R) called for a special session yesterday following the end of the Legislature's regular session. The special session will deal with unresolved issues, including oil taxes, an in-state natural gas pipeline project and strengthening penalties for people convicted of sex trafficking. It is scheduled to start Wednesday.[1]


Gov. Steve Beshear (D) ordered legislators to begin a special session today in order to take up two major bills that died during the regular session. These bills address funding for the state's road plan and prescription pill abuse. The governor says the special session should only last five days, but others say it could last up to two weeks.[2]


Maryland might hold a special session in order to deal with unfinished budget issues, but Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said he will only call one if legislative leaders agree that there will not be another stalemate. The General Assembly passed a budget before the regular session adjourned, but measures related to the budget stalled. Among these is a tax plan to balance the budget. Without one in place, a "doomsday plan" of $512 million in cuts will take effect.[3]


The Virginia General Assembly will reconvene its special session tomorrow in an attempt to pass a budget.[4] It ended its regular session on March 10 without passing a new state budget. Thus, the same day that the Legislature adjourned, it also formally started a special session to address the issue.[5] Last Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee reached a compromise on the state budget and adjourned. If passed this week it will go to Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) for his signature.[6]

Democrats initially sought changes to spending priorities, as well as a power sharing agreement in the equally divided Senate.[7] In late March, Democrats agreed to separate their quest for more power in the chamber from the budget process, and the Senate passed a new $85 billion budget by a vote of 35-4. The measure then went to the House, which passed its own version back in February.[8]


After failing to pass a new budget during a 30-day special session that ended last Tuesday, Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) immediately called another one-day special session. Lawmakers worked all day and through the night, finally adjourning at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday morning with a completed budget.[9]

In recess

As of today, April 9, 4 states' sessions are currently in recess:

  • Kansas - In recess from March 31 to April 24. Will return for wrap-up session April 25, scheduled to adjourn April 30.
  • New Jersey - In recess for budget hearings from March 16, 2012 through May 15, 2012[10]
  • North Carolina - Mid-term recess June 18, 2011 through May 12, 2012[10]
  • Wisconsin - In recess from March 17, 2012 through April 23, 2012. Will only return to conduct limited business.[10]

For the first time in 45 years, the Pennsylvania State Legislature is taking steps to reduce the number of lawmakers in each chamber. The House passed HB 153 on April 4 by a margin of 140-49. It would reduce the number of members in the House from 203 to 153 and reduce the number of Senate seats from 50 to 38. The bill is currently in the Senate, where Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi has previously stated his support for the idea.

The bill would amend the state Constitution, which means that it must be passed by two consecutive sessions of the legislature and then approved by voters in a statewide referendum. If it passes all of those hurdles, the change would become effective in 2022, following the 2020 census.

Speaker of the House Sam Smith (R) has led the charge for the bill, explaining, "I believe that reducing the size of the House will make the legislative process more efficient, because members would communicate better and understand the other person's problem. And I think that will create better legislation at the end of the day."[11]

At 253 seats, Pennsylvania currently has the second largest legislature in the country, behind only New Hampshire, which has 424. Out of all state senates, California's senators represent the most residents, 931,349 per senator, while North Dakota's senators represent the fewest, 14,310 per senator. Out of all state houses, California's assembly members also represent the most residents, 465,674 per representative, while New Hampshire representatives represent the fewest, 3,291 residents per representative. Currently in Pennsylvania, each senator represents 254,048 residents, while each representative is responsible for 62,572 residents.

Criticism of the bill has come from members of both parties, arguing that increasing the size of districts would limit the effectiveness of lawmakers and could make them more reliant on special interest money. Speaking against the bill, state Rep. Mark Cohen (D) said, “The fact that we represent a smaller number of people makes us closer to the people and enables us to do a better job. We ought not to be ashamed of that fact.”[12]

Some legislators have argued against the bill, while agreeing with the idea of shrinking the legislature. One alternative, supported by Democratic Reps. Bob Freeman and Steve Samuelson, would set up a unicameral system with 201 members serving four-year terms.[13]

State news


On April 5, the Alaska Redistricting Board approved revised redistricting maps, following a lawsuit which overturned the original plans. Judge Michael McConahy has given the plaintiffs until April 16 to file complaints regarding the revised map. The board must submit its response to any complaints by April 18. The revised plan must also face DOJ vetting under the Voting Rights Act. The filing deadline for Alaska legislative candidates is June 1, 2012.


Although maps are still a work in progress, lawmakers say they're ready to take the new maps to court if necessary once they are approved. Republican lawyer Mark Montiel said he has already been contacted about possible litigation. However, with Republicans in charge of the process for the first time since Reconstruction, Democrats are the ones likely to file lawsuits. House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D) said his party is prepared to go to court if the maps dilute the black vote in minority districts or show evidence of gerrymandering. Republicans have stated they have no intention to sue, but Democrats, unhappy with how Congressional maps were drawn, aren't necessarily taking them at their word.


The Department of Justice pre-cleared the new Arizona congressional map on April 9. The congressional primary will take place on August 28, 2012.

Redistricting Facts
Maps submitted for vote: 135 out of 142 (95.1%)** No votes on initial maps in the following: AL (2), KS (1), ME (2), MT (2)
States that have completed Congressional Maps 41/43 (Maps unfinished: KS, NH)
States that have completed State Legislative Maps 44/50 (Maps unfinished: AL, KS, ME, MS, MT, VT)
**With 50 states, there are 142 possible maps. 50 State Senate, 49 State House (No House in Nebraska), and 43 Congressional (7 states have 1 seat)


The city and state branches of the NAACP are planning to seek a court injunction against the legislative redistricting plan by May 1. They argue that the plan was created by white legislative leaders at the expense of minority voters and incumbent Sen. Edwin Gomes (D). Their focus is on the movement of voters between the 22nd District, held by Anthony Musto (D), and the 23rd, held by Gomes. While the legislature says 3,000 voters were moved from the 23rd to the 22nd in exchange for 2,000 in return, Quinnipiac University political science professor Khalilah Brown-Dean said there were actually 6,584 people moved from the 23rd to the 22nd, most of whom were minorities, while most shifted into the 23rd were white.


The Florida State Senate and redistricting activists battled it out last week in court filings. Opponents of the revised state Senate map argue that it still violates the state's "Fair Districts" amendment. Oral arguments in the case will begin on Friday, April 20, 2012.


A federal challenge of Hawaii's revised redistricting maps got the go-ahead on April 10. A three-judge federal panel will now hear the case. The original maps were struck down by state courts for including non-resident military personnel and students in population calculations. The federal suit argues that these individuals should be included.


Mississippi’s redistricting chairmen, Sen. Merle Flowers (R) and Rep. William Denny, Jr. (R), told the Associated Press that the proposed new district maps should be released and voted upon within the next few weeks. In 2011, the state failed to redraw new state legislative maps in advance of the 2011 elections. The maps that are decided upon this year will likely not be used until 2015.

New Hampshire

While New Hampshire only had two congressional districts to redraw, their process has been one of the longest in the nation. That finally appears to be coming to a close as this week the Legislature approved a plan and sent it to the governor for his approval. Initially, a House subcommittee approved a plan that made no drastic changes and moved only 250 people. In the end, however, the House ended up approving the Senate's plan, SB 202, by a vote of 239-95, on April 11. Some representatives criticized the Senate plan for moving 19,000 voters between the districts, some 18,750 more than the House version.

New York

In a decision released on Friday, state Supreme Court Justice Richard Braun rejected a petition by Democrats who argued that the Republican addition of a 63rd seat in the state Senate is unconstitutional. Braun said it was "disturbing" that Republicans used different methods for establishing boundaries in Queens, Staten Island, Nassau and Suffolk counties, but that Democrats failed to show that the process violated the constitution. A Democratic spokesman said they plan to appeal the case.

North Carolina

This Friday, April 20, a three-judge state panel will hear arguments in a challenge of North Carolina's new legislative and congressional districts. The suit was filed by the state Democratic Party, the NAACP, and other advocacy groups. They contend that the maps reduce minority voting power.


After a number of delays, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission finally met again on Friday, voting 4-1 in favor of a compromise proposal put forth by chairman Stephen McEwen. The revised plan addressed municipality splits, with the new Senate map containing only two municipalities split between districts while the House map has 68. The initial maps that were rejected by the court had 108 municipal splits.

The commission will next meet on May 2 to take public comments and will have until May 14 to decide whether or not to approve the maps. If approved, they would be in effect starting in 2013 and be used in the 2014 elections.


On April 10, the Vermont House of Representatives approved a chamber redistricting map by a 126-10 vote. The map proceeded to the Senate where a committee revised the House-drawn plan. The changes increase the deviation from ideal district size, modifying district lines in Bennington County, Charlotte, and Hinesburg. The chair of the Vermont Republican Party has threatened to sue if deviations are above 18%--a figure already exceeded before the Senate's modifications.


The drama over new state legislative maps may finally be over in Wisconsin. Last Wednesday, a panel of three federal judges accepted revisions put forth by Democrats to two Assembly districts that were ordered to be redrawn to better balance Hispanic voters. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice said the state is considering whether or not to appeal the case to the United States Supreme Court.

See also: State legislative elections, 2012 and State legislative elections results, 2012
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A total of 86 of the 99 chambers will hold state legislative elections on November 6, 2012.

1,267 (64.3%) of the country's 1,971 state senate seats are up for re-election in November 2012, and 4,712 (87.05%) of the country's 5,413 state house seats are up for re-election. Altogether, 5,984 (81.0%) of the country's 7,384 state legislative seats will be up for re-election during the presidential election year.

  • 43 of the 50 state senates are holding elections.
  • 43 of the 49 state houses are holding elections.

The 5,984 seats up for election is 146 fewer than the 6,125 that were contested in 2010.

Filing deadlines

See also: Signature requirements and deadlines for 2012 state government elections and 2012 Elections preview: Comparing state legislative filing deadlines

No states have signature filing deadlines this week.

So far, deadlines have passed in 26 states:

States with upcoming deadlines:


See also: 2012 election dates

There are no state legislative primaries this week.

So far, primaries have taken place in two states:

A total of five state legislative incumbents have been defeated in a primary.

States with upcoming primaries:

Note: Texas was originally scheduled to hold their primary on March 6. However, with newly drawn state legislative maps being fought in the courts, the date was moved to May 29.
Currently, 18 states permit the recall of state officials. Between 1913 and 2008, there were just 20 state legislative recall elections in five states. Of the 20 state legislative recall elections, 13 out of 20 resulted in the state legislator being recalled. In 2011, there were 11 state legislative recalls in three states, 4 of which resulted in the legislator being recalled. In 2012, there are currently 4 scheduled state legislative recalls.


2011 saw a wave of recall attempts in Michigan. While most of those efforts dried up, at least two campaigns continued on (the recall of Paul Scott was successful on November 8, 2011). Organizers of the campaigns to recall Bruce Caswell (R) and Phil Pavlov (R) set their sights on the August 2012 ballot, but last week organizers of the Pavlov recall announced they did not have enough signatures and were abandoning their efforts.[14] The Caswell campaign remains active.


See also: Timeline of events of the recall of Wisconsin State Senators in 2012

Democrats in Wisconsin filed recall petitions on November 15, 2011 against four Republican state senators - Pam Galloway, Scott Fitzgerald, Terry Moulton and Van Wanggaard.[15] Campaign organizers turned in more than the necessary number of signatures in each of the four races on January 17, 2012. Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess signed an agreement scheduling primaries for May 8 with general elections on June 5.[16]

In late March, state Republican Party officials announced plans to run Democratic candidates in all four recall primaries in order to ensure primaries in all races, which then guarantees all recalls will take place on the same day.[17] Because Wisconsin has an open primary system, voters do not have to be registered to a specific party in order to cast a vote in the primary. Therefore, Republican-leaning voters can cross over to the Democratic primary and vice-versa. Republicans used the same maneuver last year during the recall elections of six GOP state senators. The "fake" or "protest" candidates were all defeated in the primary, receiving between 29 and 44 percent of the vote.

Candidates in the recalls had until April 10 to file 400 valid signatures to get on the ballot. The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board is scheduled to hold a special meeting tomorrow to consider challenges to the candidates and certify ballot access.[18] Democrats filed a complaint against all of the protest candidates, arguing they knowingly gave false information on documents submitted to election officials.[19]

Matchups currently stand as follows:

See also: State legislative special elections, 2012

There are no special elections scheduled to take place this week.

Looking ahead

Upcoming special elections include:

  • April 24: Pennsylvania House District 22
  • April 24: Pennsylvania House District 134
  • April 24: Pennsylvania House District 153
  • April 24: Pennsylvania House District 169
  • April 24: Pennsylvania House District 186
  • April 24: Pennsylvania House District 197
  • July 10: South Carolina Senate District 41
  • July 24: South Carolina House District 68

See also


  1. Coshocton Tribune, "Governor calling special session on 3 issues," April 16, 2012
  2. WKYU, "Special Session Opens in Frankfort; Lawmakers Hope to Complete Work in Five Days," April 16, 2012
  3. Gazette.Net, "O’Malley: No special session without consensus," April 13, 2012
  4. Washington Post, "More than a month late, Virginia legislators will again consider state budget," April 14, 2012
  5. The Roanoke Times, "Budget requires special session," March 11, 2012
  6. The Cavalier Daily, "Special session decides budget," April 9, 2012
  7. Washington Post, "Budget talks resume in special session with little expected as legislature’s popularity slides," March 21, 2012
  8. Washington Post, "Virginia Senate approves state spending plan," March 26, 2012
  9. Kitsap Sun, "At long last, state has balanced budget again," April 11, 2012
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 StateScape, Session schedules," accessed April 9, 2012
  11., "Withstanding criticism, Pa. lawmakers vote to reduce the size of the legislature," April 5, 2012
  12. CBS Philly, "Pa. House Takes First Step Toward Smaller Legislature," April 5, 2012
  13. Lehigh Valley Live, "Lehigh Valley representatives support shrinking the legislature but differ on details," April 14, 2012
  14. The Times Herald, "State Sen. Phil Pavlov recall fails," April 13, 2012
  15. FOX 6 Now, "Recall paperwork filed Tuesday for four senators, including Van Wanggaard," November 15, 2011
  16. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Recall votes set for May 8 and June 5," March 14, 2012
  17. Channel 3000, "GOP Plans To Run Democratic Candidates In 4 Recall Races," March 30, 2012
  18. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "GAB Special Board Meeting," accessed April 16, 2012
  19. The Northwestern, "Democrats challenge fake Dems on recall ballots," April 12, 2012
  20. Caledonia Patch, "GOP's Official Protest Candidate Files Papers for the 21st District," April 3, 2012
  21. Daily Union, "Ellerman running as a protest candidate," April 2, 2012
  22. The Republic, “Wisconsin Republicans name fake Democrats for recall primaries,” April 4, 2012
  23. WQOW, ""Fake Democrat" files to run in 29th Senate District," April 4, 2012