AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate voted Tuesday to reduce the size of the House of Representatives, one day after the House rejected the same bill.

Both bodies debated L.D. 40 at length before taking votes. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, would reduce the House from 151 to 131 members and send the issue to voters. It proposes no change in the size of the Senate, which has 35 members.

The Senate rejected an attempt to kill the bill on a 21-13 vote, then quickly moved to approve it. On Monday, the House voted 80-62 against it. It’s still in the Senate, pending a second reading.

Given the initial votes, it’s unlikely that the bill will win final passage. As a constitutional amendment, it needs two-thirds support in each chamber.

Yet the Senate debate was lively, with strong arguments on both sides.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, began the debate by saying that the size of the House hasn’t changed since 1841, when people traveled by horse and buggy and there were no phones, much less the Internet.

“It’s not a bad idea to take a fresh look at some things every 170 years or so,” he said.

He said the Maine House is the sixth-largest legislative body in the country, larger than bodies in heavily populated states such as Illinois and California.

On the other side, Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, said he has 59 towns and townships in his district. He said that 170 years ago, government “didn’t interfere with our daily lives as it does today.

“I can’t believe it’s the right thing to do, to make these districts larger,” he said.

The bill wasn’t a partisan fight, with lawmakers from both parties voting each way. Of the 21 senators who voted to keep the bill alive, 14 were Republicans, six were Democrats and one was independent Richard Woodbury of Yarmouth.

Even some from rural districts, such as Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, who represents 62 towns and townships spread over parts of three counties, supported shrinking the House.

“My rural constituents frequently ask me why Maine has such a large Legislature,” he said. “I believe this is a reasonable bill. It will still be one person, one vote.”

Raye said the state Constitution already allows the Senate to be cut to 33 or 31 members. But a statewide vote is required to change the size of the House.

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Schneider of Orono spoke against the measure, saying that if the Legislature truly wants to reduce costs, it should take a more comprehensive approach.

Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, said that while she opposed the bill, she would vote for it. “My district would never forgive me if I didn’t,” she said.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]