Missouri Senate OKs shrinking number of House members

Monday, April 4, 2011 | 10:16 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri senators endorsed a plan Monday to downsize the Missouri General Assembly by cutting 60 members of the state House of Representatives.

The proposed constitutional amendment would shrink the 163-member House, leaving 103 seats to represent the state's nearly 6 million people. The plan avoids the sensitive issue of squeezing out current lawmakers by setting the effective date after the 2020 census, by which time all serving lawmakers would have left the House because of term limits.

Sen. Jim Lembke, who sponsored the measure, said it would make state government more efficient. Officials estimate eliminating 60 state lawmakers could save Missouri about $4.7 million per year.

Senators gave the proposed constitutional amendment first-round approval, and it needs another vote before moving to the House. Ultimately, the change in the state constitution would require a statewide vote, which could be held in November 2012 if lawmakers approve the measure.

Missouri lawmakers have considered proposals in recent years to cut the legislature, but the idea has picked up steam this year. A Missouri House committee has considered a similar proposal.

However, some lawmakers have raised concerns about whether fewer legislators would adequately represent their constituents and warned that rural areas could lose clout if the size of the chamber is reduced.

Lawmakers in about a half-dozen states have proposed shrinking the number of elected legislators. Some proponents are seeking to make their chambers more effective, and others are looking to save money by cutting down on the office, state and travel expenses that each lawmaker incurs.

For example, in Pennsylvania — home to the nation's second largest legislature — the House speaker contends that a smaller chamber could be more effective and has introduced a plan to cut its 203-member House by 50 lawmakers after redistricting a decade from now.

The nation's largest legislature is in New Hampshire, which has 424 lawmakers — of which 400 serve in the House. The fewest lawmakers are in Nebraska, which has 49 members in its unicameral legislature.

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