Pennsylvania General Assembly

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Pennsylvania General Assembly

Seal of Pennsylvania.svg.png
General Information
Type:   State legislature
Term limits:   None
2015 session start:   January 2, 2013
Website:   Official Legislature Page
Senate President:   Jim Cawley (R)
House Speaker:  Samuel Smith (R)
Majority Leader:   Dominic Pileggi (R) (Senate),
Mike Turzai (R) (House)
Minority Leader:   Jay Costa (D) (Senate),
Frank Dermody (D) (House)
Members:  50 (Senate), 203 (House)
Length of term:   4 years (Senate), 2 years (House)
Authority:   Art II, Sec 3, Pennsylvania Constitution
Salary:   $82,026/year + per diem
Last Election:  November 6, 2012
25 seats (Senate)
203 seats (House)
Next election:  November 4, 2014
Redistricting:  Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission has control
The Pennsylvania General Assembly is Pennsylvania's state legislature, seated at the state's capital, Harrisburg. It has been a bicameral legislature since 1790. The General Assembly consists of an upper house, the Pennsylvania State Senate, and a lower house, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

As of May 2015, Pennsylvania is one of 23 Republican state government trifectas.


The General Assembly has 253 members, making it the second-largest state legislature in the nation (behind New Hampshire) and the largest full-time legislature. It consists of the Pennsylvania State Senate with 50 members and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives with 203 members.

The Pennsylvania general elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in every even-numbered year. A vacancy for a seat must be filled by special election. The presiding officer of the respective house sets the date for such elections.

Senators must be at least 25 years old and Representatives at least 21 years old. They must also be citizens and inhabitants of the state for a minimum of four years, living in their respective districts for at least one year. Individuals who have been convicted of various felonies including embezzlement bribery and perjury are ineligible for election. The Pennsylvania Constitution also adds the category of "other infamous crimes" which can be broadly interpreted by state courts. No one who has been previously expelled from the General Assembly may be elected in the future.

Legislative districts are drawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census. Districts are drawn by a five-member commission, of which four members are the majority and minority leaders of both houses (or their delegates). The fifth member (and chairperson of the committee) is appointed by the other four and may not be an elected or appointed official. If the leadership cannot decide upon a fifth member, the State Supreme Court may appoint the chairperson.

While in office, legislators cannot hold civil office. Even if a member resigns, the Pennsylvania Constitution states that the individual may not be appointed to civil office for the duration of the original term for which they were originally elected.

The Assembly meets in the Pennsylvania State Capitol which was completed in 1906. Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, the Assembly must meet in the City of Harrisburg and can only move if given the consent of both chambers.


Article II of the Pennsylvania Constitution establishes when the General Assembly is to meet. Section 4 of Article II states that the General Assembly is to convene its regular session on the first Tuesday of January each year.

Section 4 gives the Governor of Pennsylvania the authority to convene special sessions of the General Assembly either when he judges a special session to be in the public interest, or when a majority of each legislative House requests a special session.


See also: Dates of 2013 state legislative sessions

In 2013, the General Assembly will be in session from January 2 to a date to be determined.

Major issues

Like many other states, Pennsylvania lawmakers will have to work on a budget deficit. Other issues include economic development, public pension reform, liquor privatization, and child abuse.[1]


See also: Dates of 2012 state legislative sessions

In 2012, the General Assembly began its legislative session on January 3.


See also: Dates of 2011 state legislative sessions

In 2011, the General Assembly will be in session from January 4 through a date to be determined by the General Assembly. [2]


See also: Dates of 2010 state legislative sessions

In 2010, the General Assembly convened its legislative session on January 5, and it remained in session throughout the year.[3]


See also: Open States' Legislative Data Report Card

The Sunlight Foundation released an "Open Legislative Data Report Card" in March 2013. Pennsylvania was given a grade of C in the report. The report card evaluated how adequate, complete and accessible legislative data was to the general public. A total of 10 states received an A: Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.[4]


The Pennsylvania State Senate is the upper house of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Senators are elected for four years. Senators terms are staggered with only half of the Senate contested at each election.

It is made up of 50 members who are elected by district from around the Commonwealth. The President of the Senate is the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania (currently Catherine Baker Knoll) who has no vote except in case of a tie.

Each member represents an average of 254,048 residents, as of the 2010 Census.[5] After the 2000 Census, each member represented 245,621.[6]

Party As of May 2015
     Democratic Party 19
     Republican Party 30
     Vacancy 1
Total 50

House of Representatives

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is the lower house Pennsylvania General Assembly. There are 203 members, elected for two year terms from single member districts. Elections are held in November of even numbered years.

Following the 2006 elections the house consists of 101 Republicans and 102 Democrats, giving the Democrats control of the House for the first time since 1994. In a compromise vote, a Republican was elected to preside over the Democratic controlled chamber.

Each member represents an average of 62,573 residents, as of the 2010 Census.[7] After the 2000 Census, each member represented 60,498.[8]

Party As of May 2015
     Democratic Party 83
     Republican Party 118
     Vacancy 2
Total 203


Partisan balance 1992-2013

Who Runs the States Project
See also: Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States and Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States, Pennsylvania’’
Partisan breakdown of the Pennsylvania legislature from 1992-2013

Pennsylvania State Senate: From 1992-2013, the Democratic Party was the majority in the Pennsylvania State Senate for one year while the Republicans were the majority for 21 years. The Pennsylvania State Senate is one of 13 state senates that was Republican for more than 80 percent of the years between 1992-2013. Pennsylvania was under Republican trifectas for the final three years of the study.

Across the country, there were 541 Democratic and 517 Republican state senates from 1992 to 2013.

Pennsylvania State House of Representatives: From 1992-2013, the Democratic Party was the majority in the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives for seven years while the Republicans were the majority for 15 years. Pennsylvania was under Republican trifectas for the final three years of the study.

Across the country, there were 577 Democratic and 483 Republican State Houses of Representatives from 1992 to 2013.

Over the course of the 22-year study, state governments became increasingly more partisan. At the outset of the study period (1992), 18 of the 49 states with partisan legislatures had single-party trifectas and 31 states had divided governments. In 2013, only 13 states have divided governments, while single-party trifectas held sway in 36 states, the most in the 22 years studied.

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Office of the Governor of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State Senate and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1992-2013. Partisan composition of Pennsylvania state government(1992-2013).PNG


See also: Redistricting in Pennsylvania

As far as legislative redistricting, the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission is responsible. This commission is normally made up of the majority and minority leaders of each legislative chamber, plus a fifth member selected by the other four to serve as chair. If the four cannot agree on a fifth, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decides. The commission has until the October of the redistricting year to submit a plan.

2010 census

Pennsylvania received its local census data on March 9, 2011. The state had a low 3.4 percent growth rate from 2000-2010. The five most populous cities showed mostly stagnation: Philadelphia grew by 0.6 percent, Pittsburgh decreased by 8.6 percent, Allentown grew by 10.7 percent, Erie decreased by 1.9 percent, and Reading grew by 8.5 percent. By county, the major standout was Forest County with a 56 percent rate of growth.[9]

On August 17, 2011, the Commission approved the census data and went to work on a preliminary map, which it passed on October 31, 2011 by a vote of 3-2. Democrats were not happy with the plan or the negotiation process. Final maps were approved on December 12, 2011 by a 4-1 vote, moving a Senate district and five House districts from west to east. There was a 30-day window to file appeals, of which 11 were filed. The state Supreme Court threw out the maps on January 25, 2012 after appeals were heard.

The commission met on April 12, 2012 to vote in favor of a compromise map, which contained two Senate district splits and 68 House splits. On June 8, the commission approved the final plan, which went to the state Supreme Court for final approval.



See also: Comparison of state legislative salaries

As of 2013, members of the Pennsylvania Legislature are paid $82,026/year during legislative sessions. Legislators receive $159/day (vouchered) tied to the federal rate, which they can receive actual expenses or per diem.[10]


Legislators in Pennsylvania are able to retire at age 50, while other state workers cannot retire until they turn 60. In 2011, the average legislative pension was $35,221 annually, while the average state employee pension was $23,491. According to former legislator David Mayernik, who began collecting a pension of $29,583 a year when he retired at age 50, the lowered retirement age was intended as compensation for small legislative salaries as well as the uncertainty of serving in office.[11]

When sworn in

See also: When state legislators assume office after a general election

Pennsylvania legislators assume office in January.

2005 pay raise controversy

In the early morning hours of July 7, 2005, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed pay increases for state lawmakers, judges, and top executive-branch officials.[12]

The vote took place at 2 a.m. without public review or commentary and Governor Ed Rendell signed the bill into law. The raise increased legislators' base pay from 16% to 34% depending on position.[13]


The pay raise included a provision allowing legislators to take their raises immediately in the form of "unvouchered expenses." This provision was included due to the Pennsylvania Constitution's clause prohibiting legislators from taking salary increases in the same term as which they are passed. State courts have ruled similar legislation to be constitutional on three separate occasions.


Anger over the raise spawned several grass-roots movements, some geared toward voting out incumbents [1] and some seeking support for a Constitutional Convention or a reduction in the size of the legislature. [2] [3].

Political aftermath

The first victim of the public uproar was Supreme Court Justice Russell M. Nigro who became the first Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice to be denied retention. Nigro asserted that he had not taken part in the pay raise. However, critics noted that Chief Justice Ralph Cappy helped draft the bill and that prior Court opinions upheld such practices.

On November 16, 2005, Governor Rendell signed a repeal of the pay raise after a near unanimous vote for repeal; only House Minority Whip Mike Veon voted against the repeal.[14]

Despite the repeal, a total of 17 legislators were defeated in the 2006 primary elections including Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer and Senate Majority Leader David J. Brightbill. They were the first top-ranking Pennsylvania legislative leaders to lose a primary election since 1964.

The November 2006 General Election claimed several more members who supported the pay raise including Reps. Gene McGill, Mike Veon, Matt Wright, Tom Gannon and Matthew Good.[15] The defeats were attributed to anger over the pay raise.

Joint legislative committees

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has ten joint legislative service agencies, the following eight of which have joint committee functions:

External links