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Senate Wounds Unicameral Bill
by Michael Khoo
February 23, 2000
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A proposal to create a one-house state legislature has stumbled out of a Senate committee in a mixed victory for unicameral supporters. Though the committee sent the plan forward to the next committee stop, lawmakers signalled their opposition by voting down a recommendation that it pass.

VOTING 7-4, the Senate Election Laws Committee declined to give its approval to the unicameral plan. Normally, such a defeat signals a bill's death. But plans to put the question of a one-house legislature before Minnesota voters - Governor Ventura's top priority - managed to limp onward. Immediately after the first vote, the committee agreed to refer the bill to the Senate Government Operations Committee. Senate President Allan Spear is a DFLer from Minneapolis and the bill's chief Senate sponsor. He says the second vote gives unicameral supporters a little more breathing room.
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Spear: Well, I think that the 7-4 vote was clearly a decision on the part of the committee that they opposed the policy. But the second vote was a vote that the debate should be allowed to move on so that the debate can continue in other committees.
For the time being, moving the debate forward may be all unicameral supporters can hope for. Earlier in the day, Ventura told members of the Minnesota Rural Electric Association that if the unicameral bill died in committee, it would only strengthen his resolve.
Ventura: Well, then that makes my case doesn't it?
Audience member: Yes, it does. Yes, it does.
Ventura: ...of the bicameral system. And I would simply then take it to you, the people of Minnesota, and say these are the people you elected who don't even have enough confidence. See, to me, it's a challenge. If the bicameral system is the best system, I believe you Minnesotans will make that choice. But I believe you deserve the opportunity to do so.
Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe has consistently opposed giving voters that opportunity next November. He says the first vote represented a sound defeat for unicameralism. But with the governor's potential wrath in mind, he made the motion to send the wounded plan on to the next committee.
Moe: I'm dealing with a person downstairs who will cite the actions of this committee as exactly the reason why we have to do this. So, we've moved it on, given another opportunity for them to be heard, more input, more arguments. So there'll be no argument from him when we're all done that they didn't have a chance to be heard.
Some opponents, however, questioned why the plan wasn't allowed to expire after the first vote. DFLer Dean Johnson of Willmar says letting the bill survive only invites more pressure from the Ventura administration.
Johnson: What kind of scares me about this - and I feel deeply - and that is, as I said, the governor will start calling people down to his office. And a governor who says, "I don't make deals," will start making deals over the bonding committee bill or some other initiative for these votes.
Dean Barkley agreed the governor will use the reprieve to drum up more support. Barkley is the director of Minnesota Planning and has followed the unicameral debate on Ventura's behalf.
Barkley: I think a dialogue with the governor's a positive thing. I know last year they were complaining that he didn't have enough dialogue and now it looks like they're complaining this year that there's too much. I think a dialogue between the governor and the legislative branch is a positive thing to do and I'm sure that dialogue will continue.
Barkley concedes the unicameral bill doesn't currently have the votes to pass a full vote of the Senate. In the House, where the plan has the support of the Republican leadership, a companion bill moved out of its first committee earlier this month, also without recommendation.