Momentous reforms in health care are commanding the attention of the entire nation. By an odd coincidence, they shed light on another proposed “reform” that keeps popping up in Pennsylvania: cutting the size of our General Assembly.
A bill introduced by House Speaker Sam Smith passed the State House this week and was sent to the Senate. It would reduce the number of State Representatives from 203 to 153 and the number of State Senators from 50 to 38. Smith argues this will make the legislature “more efficient.”
More efficient at what? What do legislators really do?
Well, in Philadelphia, several State Representatives are informing their constituents how to register for health insurance in the new state online market. It is complicated business, as we all know by now, and there were many problems with its launch that stumped ordinary citizens. But obtaining insurance is now mandatory for many uncovered people – and many are in dire need of it.
Although this is national legislation, it is implemented at the state level. That makes it state business. But who will make an effort to reach out to help people navigate this system?
Enter State Reps. Bill Keller and Michelle Brownlee. They organized workshops to explain the new marketplace and help people get online. Their districts contain many working-class people who struggle to pay for health care and don’t have an IT degree. And frankly, the Corbett Administration wasn’t helping. So they took it on themselves to act. Other State Representatives are planning Affordable Care Act workshops of their own.
Practical ombudsmanship like this is precisely the kind of public service that can be provided by legislators with small districts whose needs they know intimately and whose offices are close to voters’ homes. It is a good argument for preserving the size of the legislature as it is.