The size of the state legislature, legislative reform, and the possibility of a constitutional convention are all issues that have surfaced in Pennsylvania over the years.

Now, three legislators serving the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania - State Rep. Tina Pickett, State Rep. Matt Baker and State Sen. Gene Yaw - have responded to a survey from The Daily Review regarding these topics. Here are the questions and their answers:

State Rep. Tina Pickett

1. Pa. Legislature has the largest number of full-time lawmakers (253) and the largest staff (2,918) of any state. Is this appropriate or should we seek to reduce the size of the state legislature?

"I understand how people feel about the size of the legislature," Tina Pickett said when asked. "However, as a legislator from a rural district that covers a large amount of land, I feel that reducing the size of the state legislature would affect the representation that rural people would receive on rural issues.

"The district that I represent is the fourth largest district in the state as far as land area is concerned," Pickett continued. "Matt Baker's is number two. In rural territory, when you reduce the number of legislators, you still have the problem of how to create equal representation in those areas."

Giving an example, Pickett said her territory now consists of three counties. If the size of the state legislature would be reduced, she said, there's a possibility that her district would encompass five to six counties.

"This would extend the amount of area that a (rural) legislator would have to cover," Pickett explained. "You also, I think, lessen the effectiveness for support of rural issues."

Pickett said there are often 10 to 12 representatives covering the larger cities in Pennsylvania, and seven to eight lawmakers in the smaller cities. By reducing the number of legislators in the rural areas, she said, it would be more difficult to bring rural issues to the table in Harrisburg.

"I think it would dilute our ability for rural issues even further," Pickett said about the possibility of reducing the number of lawmakers in Pennsylvania.

The state representative also pointed out that to reduce the size of the state legislature would require an amendment to the state constitution - an act that would require years of preparation and planning.

"So this is not self-preservation," Pickett said about her opinion. "By the time a constitutional amendment would be in place, I would be beyond my years of service in the House."

2. In light of the per diem controversies, Bonusgate, and various ethics issues, do you see a need for reform, and, if so, what would your reform priorities be?

"I believe we are seeing a lot of reform in the Pennsylvania legislature," Pickett said. "We have the Open Records law, which does not seem apparent at first, but it is there. A lot of people have been indicted for unethical practices in the House and Senate. When people do something unethical, they get caught and punished for it. I see a lot of things coming to light and being changed in the Legislature.

"It never ceases to amaze me that there are people - whether it be public service, business entities, or community organizations - who allow greed and power to overtake the intent of what their lives should be.

3. If you agree reform is necessary, what is the most effective way to accomplish it - a constitutional convention or initiatives implemented by the lawmakers themselves?

"Well, most of the changes are being made by the lawmakers," Pickett said.

She said that although she's agreeable to looking into a possible constitutional convention to implement reform in Pennsylvania, she's not convinced that such an action will ultimately be successful.

"I don't think it will accomplish what they hope it will," Pickett said. "But I am open to such considerations.

State Sen. Gene Yaw:

1. The Pa. Legislature has the largest number of full-time lawmakers (253) and largest staff (2,918) of any state. Is this appropriate or should we seek to reduce the size of the state legislature?

"I have no problem reducing the size of the legislature if that is what the citizens of Pennsylvania chose," Yaw said. There are, however, consequences which would primarily affect those of us who reside in rural areas of the state which we need to consider:

- "The 23rd Senatorial District which I represent covers almost 200 miles in length and about half that distance in width. An obvious consequence would thus be less opportunity to be able to have direct contact with legislators. Reducing the number simply means adding more geographic area for fewer to cover.

- "Reducing the number of legislators, in my opinion, would also result in increased power resting with the state bureaucrats. With fewer legislators, there would certainly be less legislative oversight of government. I currently am a member of six committees. Reducing the number of legislators necessarily increases the areas of responsibility.

- "Reducing the number of legislators will also result in either an increase in staff to cover a greater area or a reduction of access or a reduction of service to residents. Again, this would have a greater impact in the rural areas of the state than in the more populated areas of the state."

Yaw added that there is no question that costs can be trimmed in the Senate just as in any other area of government.

"While general costs of government were increasing, the appropriations to the Senate have been reduced by almost 15 percent over the last four years," he said. "Clearly, had other areas of government been equally responsive, we would not face the budgetary problems before us in 2010.

"I would also add that reducing the size of the legislature or reducing the size of any government agency or program is a two-way street," he continued. "Reduction can be achieved but citizens must then be willing to accept more responsibility for their own activities and well being while recognizing that government can not and should not be expected to supply all of our needs. If reliance on government is reduced, we can certainly reduce the size of government.

"While the question is directed toward reducing the size of the legislature, we should also recognize that Pennsylvania has more than 5,000 individual governmental units. Among those units are 67 counties, 56 cities, 961 boroughs, 1,548 townships, 501 school districts and over 2,000 authorities. Pennsylvania is one of the most provincial and fragmented governments in the United States. With this background, it is understandable why Pennsylvanians have sanctioned a large legislature. Perhaps we should take a look at reducing the size of all government."

2. In light of per diem controversies, Bonusgate and various ethics issues, do you see a need for reform and, if so, what would your reform priorities be?

Yaw said "reforms are certainly in order and I have already supported several which are detailed below:

- "I am a co-sponsor of Senate Resolution 228, which for the first time ever would implement a strong set of Senate Rules of Ethical Conduct to make clear what is acceptable conduct and provide serious penalties for violations. In this regard, the Senate is working with ethics experts from across the country to assist in the development of these rules.

- "I am the prime sponsor of legislation (SB 619) which would impose a strict revolving door prohibition in Pennsylvania eliminating the practice of state employees leaving to take high paying jobs with the very companies they were regulating.

- "I am also a strong supporter of legislation (SB 102) to deal with the pay to play issue, prohibiting campaign contributors from being rewarded with state contracts."

3. If you agree reform is necessary, what is the most effective way to accomplish it - a constitutional convention or initiatives implemented by the lawmakers themselves?

Yaw said a constitutional convention is "an extraordinary step, which I have not supported."

"Those who call for this action in most cases have a specific agenda which they want to be the subject of the convention, and there are many of them," he said. "Which issues are the subject of the convention? There is also serious question as to whether any convention can be limited to a specific set of issues. Given that background, a constitutional convention could end up addressing issues extremely sensitive to rural Pennsylvanians, such as gun rights. The unintended consequences of a constitutional convention could be disastrous for us.

"I believe working through the legislative process will be the most productive," he said. "The new Right to Know Law, along with those Senate efforts outlined above, i.e. Senate Resolution 228, SB 619 and SB 102, clearly indicate significant reforms are already underway."

State Rep. Matt Baker

Baker provided one answer to the three questions:

"There is legislation before the General Assembly pertaining to each of these issues and I am open minded about considering new and different ways of governance in order to improve efficiency, cut costs, make the business of the Legislature more responsive, open and transparent to the good citizens of Pennsylvania and allay any appearance of impropriety," he said. "We have taken steps recently to require ethics training for all members of the House. I take my job very seriously, and with that, I realize and respect the responsibility and trust the public places in me to use publicly funded resources judiciously. In summary, I remain open to reforming government that is based upon strong moral and ethical values and practices good stewardship of all resources."