Q & A - Unicameral in MAINE
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 He claimed the two-house system was "outdated, inefficient and unnecessary."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