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Unicameral Bill Staggers After House Hit
by Michael Khoo
March 10, 2000
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Governor Jesse Ventura's push to create a one-house legislature stumbled not once, but twice at the Capitol. A House committee killed a bill that would have let voters decide the issue in the fall. Later in the day, an attempt to revive the measure on the house floor met stiff resistance and was abandoned.

THROUGHOUT THE UNICAMERAL SAGA, conventional wisdom figured the proposal would meet its toughest challenge in the Senate where leadership adamantly opposes the idea. But it was the House which handed the campaign its toughest defeats so far. The plan came to halt in the State Government Finance Committee, which refused to send it forward in the legislative process.

Afterwards, Ventura administration officials were visibly disturbed. Minnesota Planning Director Dean Barkley has followed the debate for the governor. "This is an issue that should be decided on the floor and not conveniently killed in a committee and obviously at this point in time," said Barkley.

The measure faltered on a 5-to-5 party-line vote with DFLers and the House's sole independent opposing. A majority is needed for a bill to advance.

During the committee debate, even fellow Republicans were sharply critical, though they ultimately voted to let the bill live to see another day. The plan calls for a 135-member body with four-year, staggered terms. Representative Mike Osskopp of Lake City blasted the lack of any details. "What does it mean to have a 135-member body?" he asked. "How much staff will we have? Will we be full-time? What, you know, there's consequences to this action. What are these consequences? That's what worries me."

"It's a stinker. It should die."

- Rep. Mark Gleason
Supporters wasted little time trying to revive the bill. During the afternoon House session, they asked for a new hearing in another committee. Shuffling active bills between committees is common but Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty acknowledged using the parliamentary procedure to resuscitate a dead bill was highly unusual. But he said circumstances warranted the move. "We have a fundamentally unique issue," he said. "One that I would submit to you would not repeat itself - or anything close to it - anytime in the near future, maybe ever. And we can't allow, with all due respect, a tie vote in a 10-member gathering of this body to dictate the outcome of this issue."

The debate proved highly contentious, with some lawmakers saying the maneuvering would set a dangerous precedent. DFLer Mark Gleason of Richfield voted against the bill as a member of the State Government Finance Committee. He said continuing the debate in the face of a fair vote would undermine the committee system. "I've sat in a lot of committee hearings," Gleason said. "I've listened to endless debate on this issue. It's a stinker. It should die. I voted that. And why is this body standing here debating whether or not my vote counts?"

Facing likely defeat, the motion to revive the bill was withdrawn, leaving the measure in legislative limbo. But Republican representative Tony Kielkucki of Lester Prairie says he'll try another tactic to put unicameralism back on track. Kielkucki says he'll return to the committee level and ask for a reconsideration. It's a long shot, but as lawmakers repeated throughout the drama, so long as the legislature is in session, nothing is truly dead.