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Unicameralism Makes a Comeback
by Amy Radil
May 1, 2000
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A proposal for a one-house Legislature was resuscitated today at the state Capitol. The unicameral proposal, which is a top priority of Governor Ventura's, passed the House Government Operations Committee for a second time, and House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he anticipates a House floor vote possibly next week. Ventura also pressed the case for a unicameral vote with Senators at his home today, but they may be tougher to persuade.

MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE Government Operations committee did not welcome their second look at the unicameral proposal with open arms. DFLers complained that the bill is receiving extraordinary treatment under the protection of its author, Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon. Sviggum defended the move, saying he made no attempts to cajole or strong-arm committee members to support the bill, but felt he should push it forward out of courtesy to the governor.

"I think it's appropriate to give Governor Ventura on his marquee issue of the legislative session an issue that I personally passionately believe in, the idea of a single-house legislature, one more chance in the session.," Sviggum said.

Sviggum also pointed to poll results showing a majority of the public welcomes the chance to vote on the proposal in November. But DFL Representative Phyllis Kahn of Minneapolis challenged that statement, saying voters would likely welcome the chance to vote on tax cuts, education or anything else.

"You'll get this huge percentage saying 'yes,'" said Kahn. "Don't you think that's just a question posed in a way everyone just says 'yes' to it?"

That may be the case, Sviggum responded, but unicameral is unique in that it poses a conflict of interest for legislators to vote themselves out of a job. Republican Mike Osskop of Lake City initially seemed hostile to the concept. "Of all the ideas out of the Ventura administration, the unicameral idea may be the dumbest," Osskop said.

But Osskop agreed with Sviggum that voters, not legislators, should decide any initiative that affects the way legislators do their work. "What makes it extraordinary and what makes it worthy of extraordinary treatment is it's a terms of employment issue, and that's the only reason I have consistently supported putting it on the ballot," he said.

The committee narrowly rejected an amendment that would have required the secretary of state's office to develop a voter guide. Members then approved the unicameral proposal 13-10. Sviggum says it must now move through the Rules Committee to the House floor, where he hopes to see a vote - possibly next week.

While two weeks ago Sviggum was angry at Ventura over his veto of the "woman's right to know" abortion bill and declared the unicameral issue "dead," Sviggum says Ventura's overtures to House members at his home last week were well received, and instrumental in reviving the unicameral bill. "He's maybe taught us that we can be a little bit bold and not connect issues, not link issues, that's kind of the good old boys politics of the past, and I compliment him for doing that and in this case this vote is not linked to anything at all, and I say that very proudly."

Ventura tried to work some friendly persuasion on the unicameral among senators at a similar gathering,but admitted that they were not a very receptive audience. "There's not a lot of Senate support for unicameral, but I think I'd challenge them to say, 'won't the best win?'" Ventura said.

Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe says he was unpersuaded. Some legislators say their opposition stems from fears that under a unicameral legislature power would be even more concentrated in the hands of leaders and committee chairs than it is now. Still, House Speaker Steve Sviggum remains upbeat. He says he believes passionately in the unicameral concept, and thinks many legislators will feel compelled to support it on the House floor.