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Unicameral Proposal Gets First Legislative Airing
by Michael Khoo
February 8, 2000
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The unicameralism debate has finally opened at the state Capitol. Last night Governor Jesse Ventura and key lawmakers presented the case for a one-house state legislature to legislators themselves.

ELECTED OFFICIALS have been arguing the merits of a one-house legislature for years, but the issue never generated much momentum. That is, until Governor Jesse Ventura adopted unicameralism as his top priority for reforming state government. Ventura says the current bicameral system is cumbersome and confusing. He says citizens who might otherwise participate in government are turned away by the complexities of navigating two houses.
More on Unicameralism
More stories, audio, background, and resources are available in the unicameralism section of MPR's Session 2000.
Ventura: My support for a single house legislature is grounded in the belief that government should be accountable, responsive, and limited. The legislative process doesn't need to be complicated to be effective. Rather, it should be simple, straightforward and understandable.
Ventura spoke in support of legislation authored by Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum, a Republican, and Senate President Allan Spear, a DFLer. The proposal would create a 135-member body called the Legislature. Individual members, called senators, would serve four-year, staggered terms. If the bill passes and voters ratify it, the new one-house body would convene its first session in 2003. Spear says supporting the proposal shouldn't be interpreted as an attack on the current system.
Spear: I've served in the state Senate for 28 years. I love this institution. I think we have one of the best legislatures in the country. So, to want to improve the legislative process, to look for ways to make it more efficient, does not mean that I think this is a broken down process.
Support for the bill crosses all political boundaries - party affiliation, legislative experience, and geography just to name a few. On the other hand, the opposition is equally diverse. Officials from the state Republican and the DFL parties both testified against the plan. And labor lined up alongside business leaders to do the same. Bill Blazer is a vice president with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. He says eliminating one legislative body could create more government intrusion.
Blazer: We concluded that a unicameral system might not mean less government because it would lower the hurdle over which an idea had to pass before it became law. In our judgment, we want to keep that hurdle about where it is today.
Blazer and other unicameral opponents say flaws in the current system could be fixed with simple changes in procedure; changes that don't require dismantling the two-house system. But Ventura says lawmakers and Capitol insiders have a vested interest in the status quo. He says at a bare minimum, lawmakers should put the question on the ballot next November and let Minnesota voters decide.
"Minnesotans deserve the right to choose what their government will be."

- Governor Ventura
Ventura: If you're a bicameral supporter, if it's indeed the best system, why not have the courage? You'll have the courage and confidence to believe that the Minnesotans will choose that system. If not, then again, the Minnesotans deserve the right to choose what their government will be.
However, critics of unicameralism say legislators can't place every proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. Mark Asch is the president of the watchdog group Common Cause of Minnesota. He says his organization opposes a one-house system. And he says he doesn't see any need to put the question on the ballot, particularly when he says there is no obvious groundswell in favor of unicameralism.
Asch: There appears to be no broad public desire for this change. The threshold you're being asked to set is too low. Based on current polling, it would seem that legalization of the medical use of marijuana surely must be moving to the ballot. As should mandatory rebates of excess state government tax collections. The numbers on probably both of those are higher.
Lawmakers took no action on the unicameralism bill, but the legislation is expected to face its first vote in the House Government Operations Committee later this week or early next week. Possible Senate action remains uncertain. The bill is expected to face a more difficult path in the latter body where the DFL leadership is strongly opposed.