Saturday, May 2, 2009
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Rep. Linda Valentino
LD 1424 - Quick Info
Top Ten Questions
1. Will the citizens get to vote on this issue?
Yes. When? November 2010.
2. If the vote is approved, when will the first Unicameral Legislature be seated?
In December, after the 2014 elections.
3. How many proposed members of a Unicameral Legislature?
4. Will there still be two members representing the Tribes and Nations?
5. What will the Legislators be called?
6. How many constituents will the new Senators have?
About 12, 400.
7. Will re-districting have to take place?
8. Will it cost additional money to re-district for a unicameral?
No. Maine is scheduled to conduct a re-districting based on the 2010 census. Therefore, Maine has already budgeted for re-districting to take place. This will happen with or without the unicameral bill being passed.
9. Will Legislators still serve two-year terms? Yes. Will they still be subject to term limits?
Term limits are not addressed in the Maine Constitution. Term limits are set by statute. LD 1424 only addresses constitutional items, therefore, does not alter term limits.
10. What is the estimated cost savings of a unicameral in Maine?
$15 million over a two-year budget.
Please see additional handouts for in-depth answers to above questions and many more items.
Q: What is the difference between a bicameral and a unicameral legislature?
A legislature is bicameral if it consists of two bodies, usually a senate and a house. A legislature is unicameral if it consists of only one house.
Q: How many bicameral legislatures are there in the United States?
49 states have bicameral legislatures. Since 1937, Nebraska has been the only unicameral legislature in the United States.
Q: Do other forms of governing have unicameral systems?
Yes, almost all cities, towns, counties, and school boards are considered unicameral since only one board or council governs the body. Plus, all of Canada's Provinces are unicameral.
Q: Have other states ever had unicameral legislatures?
Yes. Most of the American colonies were governed by one-house legislatures, but this gradually shifted. By 1763, only two colonies (Deleware and Pennsylvannia) continued to use unicameral legislatures. After independence, all but three states (Georgia, Pennsylvannia, and Vermont) adopted bicameral systems. Georgia became bicameral in 1789, and Pennsylvannia became bicameral in 1790, after Benjamin Franklin's death. Franklin was was a firm believer in a unicameral legislature. * Vermont switched to bicameral in 1836.
Q: Why did Nebraska change to a unicameral?
U.S. Senator George William Norris is considered the architect of Nebraska's unicameral system. Dring the Depression, he traveled the state promoting the idea. He claimed the two-house system was "outdated, inefficient and unnecessary." The people were convinced of this arguments and the citizens passed the unicameral initiative in 1934, by a vote of 286,086 to 191,152. (See attached "History of the Nebraska Unicameral") The same year Nebraska's unicameral came into being, attempts by Legislators in 21 other states to go unicameral failed.
Q: Since 1937, have there been other serious attempts by states to change to unicameral?
Yes. In 1960, the United States Supreme Court ruled that both houses in State Legislatures must be apportioned according to population, instead of one house elected based on population and one house elected based on geographical lines. This made it illegal to set up Senate seats by county, and it set the legal basis claiming that States did not need to have two houses. This set off a flurry of legislation being introduced in states to change to unicameral systems.
Q: Why didn't more states change to unicameral?
In most states, in order for the citizens to be able to vote on a Constitutional change it requires a 2/3 super-majority of both the Senate and the House members to approve sending the measure out to the citizens for a vote. As Nebraska's first clerk, Hugo Srb, predicted, "who wants to vote to legislate themselves out of a job."
Q: How long has the Maine legislature been a two-house body?
Maine became a state in 1820, and has had a bicameral legislature since that date.
Q: Has Maine ever had other bills submitted to the Legislature to make it unicameral?
Yes, many bills have been submitted over the years. The last time the Maine legislature seriously debated this issue was in 1995. In order for the citizens to be able to vote on this Constitutional change, it requires both the Senate and the House to approve of the bill by a super-majority, 2/3 vote in each chamber. The Maine Legislature has never voted to allow the Maine citizens to vote on this issue. See accompanying handout for additional information.
Q: Why don't the citizens in most states petition for a change?
Both Maine and Nebraska allow for citizen inititives to be placed on the ballot, but most states do not allow this procedure. In Maine, this item could be placed on the ballot it 56,000 certified people signed petition forms. Most people do not know about a unicameral legislature. LD 1425 should prompt a healthy debate on the subject.
Q: How many legislators are in the Maine Legislature?
There are 186 members of the Maine Legislature - 35 Senators and 151 members of the House of Represenatives. (By statute, there are also two Tribal Representatives that serve.)
Q: How many legislators will serve in the Maine Legislature under LD 1424?
The bill proposes to have 105 legislative members. (By statute, Two Tribal Representatives will still be elected, as they are presently.)
Q: Nebraska only has 49 legislators, why does LD 1424 call for 105?
Although Maine and Nebraska both have part-time citizen legislators, going from 186 to 49 would be be a very dramatic decrease. 105 members translates into three "Senators" representing the same amount of people that one Maine Senator currently represents. This still puts the elected official "close" to their constituents.
Q: Which half of the present bicameral legislature will still exist in Maine under LD 1424?
The Senate is the legislative body that will be retained if the voters approve of changing the Constitution. Therefore, members of the legislature will be referred to as "Senators."
Q: How many citizens does a Maine Senator and a Representative currently represent? How many will a new "Senator" represent?
Currently, each Senator serves about 36,426 and each Representative serves about 8,443 constituents.** Under LD 1424 each Senator would serve about 12,400 citizens based on the present census.
Q: How does that representation compare to other states?
Currently, Maine has more Senators and Representatives per person than 44 other states. Even if it changes to one legislator for 12,400 people, Maine citizens will still maintain a unique closeness to their legislator. Every Senator in California represents 846,791 constituents. Even though Senators are full-time, and have staff in California, that is a lot of people to "get back to" when they call or email. Idaho has the same population as Maine and has 105 legislators.
Q: Why don't we just reduce the size of the Senate and House membership , but keep the bicameral system?
We could ask the voters to vote on that, but it would not increase the accountability, transparency, and efficiency that LD 1424 is trying to accomplish. Plus, the fiscal savings would be minimal compared to a projected savings of $15 million dollars for a unicameral legislature over the bienneum budget.
Q: Why propose this now?
The country is in an economic recession. The State of Maine is facing a $900 million shortfall in revenue while trying to produce a new, balanced budget. The legislature is asking everyone to consolidate, reduce, and take less. It is time for the legislators to do their part.
Q: So is it all about the savings?
Absolutely not. $15M in projected savings is wasted if it does not produce better government. LD 1424 aims to recognize the need for a modern day government. Technology has changed since Maine became a state in 1820. We no longer travel by horse and buggy, nor do we send all correspondence by mail. The car made traveling easier to get around from town-to-town and the internet has created a valuable, instant link to our constituents.
Q: How will a unicameral make government more accountable, transparent, and efficient?
Accountibility will happen when all legislators know that their vote will be directly tied to the outcome of a bill. Many times people vote for a bill "to be on the record." They want to be on the popular side of an issue, but they know that either the Senate will kill the bill, or Appropriations will not fund it. A unicameral will force our elected officials to make tough decisions for the betterment of the entire state. Transparency will occur with only one body. Many times bills are referred to Committees, changed by Committee, then sent to the House and amended, then sent to the Senate and amended, and then back to the House. People are not able to easily track what is being done to a bill, and why it is being done. Efficiency will happen when we stop debating the same issue in two different venues. All of our committees are joint committees with Senators and Representatives on the Commiitee. We work together in committees and we can work as one on the floor. See attached handout for more details.
Q: Wouldn't the lobbyists have more power if there are less members?
No. Right now anyone and everyone who deals with the Maine Legislature knows that if you want something "killed" you lobby the Senate. In order to pass a law, you need BOTH bodies to agree to the exact same language in a proposed bill. Since the Senate has only 35 members, it only takes 18 members to vote down a bill. Example: The Senate is split 20 Democrats and 15 Republicans, if the bill is partisan, all the lobbyists have to do is persuade 3 D's to vote against the bill. They don't even need to talk to anyone in the House.
Q: What is the present term of Maine legislators and how many consecutive terms can they serve under term limits?
Legislators are elected for a two year term. Under term limits, they are only allowed to serve four consecutive terms, for a total of eight years.
Q: Does LD 1424 propose to change the length of the terms or term limits?
No, these are two separate issues. LD 1424 keeps the two year term in the Maine Constitution. Term limits are governed under the Maine Revised Statutes, not the Maine Constitution, therefore, they are not changed under LD 1424.
Q: What are the requirements for an individual to become a member of the Maine Legislature?
According to the Maine Constitution, both Senators and Representatives must be a registered voter, must live within the district in which he or she is running at the time their name is placed into nomination, and have been 5 years a citizen of the United States. Senators must be 25 years of age and Representatives 21 years of age at the start of their term. LD 1424 proposes the Senators in the Unicameral be 21 years of age and other qualifications will stay the same.
Q: Will the Maine Legislature remain a part-time citizen legislature?
Yes. It will still be a part-time citizen legislature.
Q: How often is the Maine Legislature in session?
The first regular session starts in January and adjourns no later than the 3rd Wednesday in June. The second regular session starts in January and adjourns no later than the 3rd Wednesday in April. LD 1424 makes no changes to these times.
Q: What is the pay of Maine Legislators?
Senators and Representatives receive the same amount of pay and the same amount of reimbursable expenes. These amounts are set by statute, not the Constitution, therefore, LD 1424 makes no changes to these amounts.
Q: Does LD 1424 propose to follow Nebraska's nonpartisan election format?
No. LD 1424 continues to have partisan elections with primaries and general elections, just as we currently currently conduct our elections.
* data from NCSL website
Responsiveness to powerful interests. The transparency of the unicameral system reduces the influence of professional representatives of powerful interests and enhances the influence of less organized and moneyed citizen groups. The bicameral system, with its complex procedures and numerous, often hidden points of access, favors those who have the time and knowledge to play "inside ball." In particular, the concentration of decision-making authority in conference committees enables the paid lobbyist to influence legislative activity unobtrusively and, by swaying only a few members, to impede or advance legislation without respect to the will of the majority.
Responsiveness to diverse and minority interests. What counts in responding to diverse and minority interests is not the number of legislative bodies, but a good electoral system and the use of methodical, time-consuming legislative practices to ensure that all interests are heard and all viewpoints carefully considered. Because its decision-making process is relatively simple and efficient, a unicameral legislature has the time to provide a fuller and fairer hearing to all interests and points of view. Extended consideration of an issue by legislators in one house is more likely to deepen understanding than hasty consideration by duplicate legislators in two houses.
Experience elsewhere. The unicameral system does not over-concentrate the legislative power in Nebraska or in democratic nations that have single-house legislatures.1 In Nebraska's unicameral legislature, on the contrary, power is more dispersed than in the typical bicameral legislature. Leadership authority in the Nebraska legislature is divided among several legislators and committees, and the general membership elects not only the leaders but the chairs of committees as well. As a consequence, rank-and-file legislators have more real authority in Nebraska than they do in most bicameral legislatures, where power in each house is concentrated in one or two leaders and the members of a few conference committees.
Citizen participation. The unicameral legislative process encourages broad public participation in legislative decisions and provides members with more information to use in making decisions, because it allows citizens and organizations to channel their energies more effectively on the activities of one house. Participating in the bicameral legislative process, on the other hand, is a burden for everyone; ordinary citizens in particular are put off by the time required to attend duplicate proceedings in two houses, often followed by conference committee meetings.
Deliberative process. In a unicameral legislature, committees and members are able to proceed slowly and carefully, because they are relieved of the need to move legislation through a cumbersome legislative process involving two houses. By virtue of the directness and simplicity of its process, a unicameral legislature has the time to give the ideas of legislators and citizens a more thorough airing and a more exacting consideration than is possible in the accelerated, duplicate proceedings of a bicameral legislature.
Bicameral legislatures, in contrast, are notorious for scurry. To get bills through time-wasting, duplicate proceedings in two houses and conference committees, the bicameral legislature is forced to take shortcuts and use fast-track procedures that condense committee and floor debate and eliminate opportunities for deliberation and reflection.
Despite the fast-track procedures used by bicameral legislatures, most bills still bog down in inter-house wrangling. As a result, decisions are not made until the very end of the session, when the most complex and important measures are shuttled rapidly from house to house with little time for comprehension or careful consideration.
Quality assurance and the second house. Experience does not support the bicameralist assertion that one house checks and corrects the actions of the other house. On the contrary, the presence of a second house encourages and enables legislative carelessness--as when one house hastily accepts the actions of the other house on faith, without independent evaluation, or passes ill-conceived legislation, relying on the other house to correct or reject it. A single-house legislature, in contrast, knowing that its decisions are final, acts only with great care and diligence.
Procedural efficiency. Owing to the simplicity and directness of its process, a unicameral legislature is able to act on legislation more efficiently. A successful bill takes a straightforward path from committee to the floor to the governor. In a bicameral legislature, a successful bill must go through duplicate committee hearings and floor debates in the two houses, then often through a conference committee, and again through two more floor debates. This cumbersome, redundant procedure is inherently wasteful and inefficient; it confers no benefit commensurate with the time and energy it consumes.
Cost of the legislature. A unicameral legislature is smaller and less costly to operate.** There are fewer legislators and employees to pay and no duplication of bills, committees, and meetings. Nebraska's first unicameral legislature in 1937 reduced the cost of legislative operations by about one-half. . The unicameral system in Nebraska allows that state to hold down the cost of legislative operations without compromising the capability of the legislature or the resources available to individual legislators.
** A unicameral legislature as proposed in LD 1424 (105 members ) would save the state of Maine roughly $15 million over a biennium budget. (See attached breakdowns.)
Accountability and procedural simplicity. Legislators in a unicameral system are more accountable to the electorate, because the simplicity and directness of the unicameral legislative process encourages citizens to pay attention to legislative activity and permits them to better follow and understand the actions of their representatives. Knowing that they are under more and better scrutiny back home, unicameral legislators naturally feel more accountable and alert to constituent concerns and interests. In a bicameral legislature, on the other hand, accountability is weak, because the complexity of the legislative process discourages and confuses citizens attempting to follow the activities of their representatives so as to hold them to account for their part in legislative decisions.
Accountability and procedural openness. A unicameral legislature is more accountable to the electorate than a bicameral legislature, because the unicameral legislative process is more open to public view. In a unicameral legislature, decisions are made in public settings--either in standing committees or on the floor--where legislators speak and vote in full view of the media and the public. In the bicameral legislative process, in contrast, the fulcrum of legislative decision-making shifts from the standing committees and the floor to negotiations between the two houses--where a few leaders and the members of a few conference committees from each house make the most important legislative decisions in relative privacy and obscurity. Because its pivotal decision-making processes--inter-house negotiations--are so removed from public view and resistant to public comprehension, a bicameral legislature is necessarily less accountable to the voters than a unicameral legislature.
Accountability and the second house. The bicameral structure undermines the accountability of individual legislators by clouding their responsibility for decisions. Legislators in one house can blame decisions on the other house. They can vote for a measure they oppose, or against one they favor, knowing that the other house will reject the result. They are impelled to design legislation not on the merits but rather as ploys to improve their bargaining position with the other house. Members of a unicameral legislature cannot disguise, yield, or distort their decision-making responsibility in these ways. Each member is fully responsible for voting on bills on the floor and can be held to account for those actions by the voters. As a result, citizens are able to fix responsibility for decisions and hold legislators to account for their actions.
* Source: www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/issinfo/ini_bicam.htm
Concentration of governmental power. The unicameral system corrects the modern concentration of power in the executive and judicial branches of government. The founders lived in an age of burgeoning legislative power; hence they feared a strong legislature and sought to inhibit its ability to act. But we live in an age of executive, bureaucratic, and judicial dominance, when the problem with legislatures is infirmity, not prowess. By concentrating and increasing the authority of the legislature, the unicameral structure restores the proper balance of power among the three branches of state government.
External constraints on the legislature's power. Although the authority of legislators in a unicameral system is not limited by a second house, members are nonetheless constrained by powerful countervailing external forces: they are more accountable to the electorate; and the executive veto and judicial review remain as constitutional protections against legislative excess.
Internal constraints on power. The members of the legislature choose their leaders, and they also adopt the rules of procedure that allocate power to those leaders. Therefore, the members of a unicameral legislature can readily compensate for the absence of countervailing powers in a second house by choosing leaders carefully and by adopting rules of procedure that limit the authority and influence of leaders and committee chairs.
Legislative stability and restraint. The founders' theory of bicameral stability--in which the momentary passions of popular majorities expressed in the House would be restrained by wiser, more conservative representatives of wealth and property in the Senate--is a relic of history. For a long time now, the members of both houses of state legislatures have been chosen by and from the citizenry at large within the same voting districts, without destabilizing the legislature. There is little reason to suppose that a unicameral legislature, so chosen, is more volatile or erratic than a bicameral one.
Legislative authority. The bicameral system divides legislative authority between two houses with competing sets of members, committees, and leaders. Partitioning the legislature in this way diminishes its authority and effectiveness in dealing with the executive branch of state government and with the federal government. The unicameral structure, by concentrating legislative power in the members and leaders of one house, enhances the prestige, independence, and authority of the legislature. A strong legislature is able to deal more effectively with the governor and the executive branch and to represent the interests of the state more forcefully on the national level.
External quality controls. In our system of shared lawmaking authority, quality control does not rest with the legislature alone. The executive veto and judicial review are adequate protection against serious legislative error.
United States. The unicameral system is not a radical experiment in government. Two colonies had unicameral legislatures (Delaware and Pennsylvania - due to Benjamin Franklin being a supporter of Unicameralism) as did three states in the revolutionary and early national period (Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Vermont). The Continental Congress was a unicameral body. The state of Nebraska has been satisfied with its unicameral legislature for more than 60 years.
Local government. Local governments in the United States all have unicameral governing bodies. This was not always so: bicameral governing boards at the local level were once common in this country. Who now would argue that each city, county, and town should have two governing bodies?
Other democracies. Unicameral legislatures exist in other nations that share many of our political traditions. Indeed, several western democratic nations have converted from bicameral to unicameral systems in recent decades.2 The following western democracies have national unicameral legislatures: Finland, Israel, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, and New Zealand. The latter three have converted from bicameral to unicameral structures since World War II. Other jurisdictions, like Iceland and Norway, have legislatures that are elected on a unicameral basis but divide into two houses after election for purposes of processing legislation. Others, like Canada and Britain, have bicameral national legislatures, but practical legislative power is heavily concentrated in one house. Canada's provinces all have unicameral legislatures.
Private organizations. No business or nonprofit corporation would put up with two boards of directors.
Dual representation. Bicameral state legislatures are no longer necessary for representational purposes, because the courts now require that the members of both houses be elected from equal population districts. In earlier times, bicameral state legislatures may have served a representational purpose: during the period of the American revolution, in some states the two houses represented somewhat different socio-economic groups; 50 years ago, members of the two houses of state legislatures represented somewhat different political communities (e.g., counties, cities, city wards). The two houses of Congress continue to represent different constituencies (state districts and population districts). But in state legislatures today, the members elected to the two houses are essentially duplicate representatives of the same population districts. Therefore, bicameral state legislatures can no longer be justified on representational grounds.*
In 1965, the Maine Constitution was amended to conform to the United States Supreme Court decisions. In 1968, the first Senate elections in Maine were held based on newly formed district populations. Prior to 1968, Senators were elected by counties.
* Source: www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/issinfo/ini_bicam.htm