In the Spotlight

News & Features
Unicameralism Survives First Test
by Michael Khoo
February 14, 2000
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

A proposed constitutional amendment to create a one-house state legislature took a small but important step forward Monday. A House committee unanimously approved a measure to put the question on November's ballot. It's the first time a unicameral proposal has passed a legislative committee.

For More Information
See the unicameral sectionof MPR's Session 2000.
SUPPORTERS OF A SINGLE-HOUSE LEGISLATURE breathed a sigh of relief when the House Government Operations Committee approved the unicameral proposal 23-0. The measure had been the subject of a parliamentary tug-of-war up until the final minutes before the vote, with supporters and opponents debating the appropriate path it should take as it winds its way through the approval process. In the end, both sides agreed to send the plan to the State Government Finance Committee.

Republican Phil Krinkie of Shoreview chairs that committee. He's also a vocal opponent of unicameralism. But he said he has no intention of killing the bill.
Krinkie: I'm not here to be an obstructionist. I'm here to move the process, to give a full and complete hearing to the legislation.
Some unicameral advocates, such as Republican Representative Tony Kielkucki of Lester Prairie, had feared Krinkie would use his power as a committee chair to keep the proposal bottled up indefinitely. Kielkucki says he welcomes Krinkie's intention to keep the bill moving.
Kielkucki: I'm looking forward to the next level. We are going to the finance committee and see what amendments are offered and work through that. And with Representative Krinkie's help, hopefully we can get this process through and move it on to the rules committee.
The current proposal calls for a single, 135-member body called the "legislature." Individual members, called Senators, would serve four-year staggered terms. If the plan passes both houses, it would require ratification by Minnesota voters next November.

Governor Jesse Ventura has made the push for unicameralism a top priority. He says he can only sit back and wait for the Legislature to make its next move. The next step almost certainly involves more legislative wrangling. Republican Representative Dave Bishop of Rochester chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. Bishop, a strong opponent of unicameralism, says the proposal has clear financial implications, he'll try to corral it into his committee.
Bishop: If it were to come to the floor with fiscal impact and a fiscal note and, without going through Ways and Means, I would expect to demand that it go to Ways and Means.
Unicameral supporters will likely oppose that move. In the meantime, they say they'll continue to build momentum for their cause. Shortly after the committee vote, House Speaker Steve Sviggum challenged the Senate to take similar action. Sviggum says he hopes the measure will survive legislative gamesmanship during the committee process.
Sviggum: And that's an expectation that the Senators on the Senate floor and the Representatives on the House floor have votes; have open, up-and-down votes on the unicameral issue so the citizens of the state can see where individual members do stand.
DFL Senator John Marty of Roseville says he shares that goal. Marty chairs the Election Laws Committee - unicameralism's first stop in the Minnesota Senate. He says most of his committee colleagues oppose a one-body statehouse.
Marty: It's prospects are certainly uncertain. We don't know. There're lots of people who oppose it but may be willing to let it get to the floor. My hope is we can pass it out of our committee and get it to the floor of the full Senate.
Marty says he'll begin hearings on the bill next Monday. He hopes to take a vote by the middle of next week.