Op-ed column: One-house state legislature could eliminate bottlenecks

No matter how the New York Senate resolves itself, it would be a blessing if our legislative branch

No matter how the New York Senate resolves itself, it would be a blessing if our legislative branch of government became like Nebraska’s: unicameral.

That state was bicameral like all the others when, in 1934, the people of Nebraska voted to change that forever. The flaws of its bicameral legislature were apparent for a long time before that. Bills were often not passed because the two branches of the legislature could not agree on a single version, and the committees that met to reconcile those differences met secretly, and thus were unaccountable for their actions.

Nebraska’s example

In 1931, George Norris, a U.S. senator from Nebraska, made a trip to Australia and learned that Queensland adopted a unicameral legislature. (Canada’s provinces have unicameral governments too.) After that he went around the state arguing that the bicameral legislature was based on England’s inherently undemocratic House of Lords, which was appointed by the king, and the House of Commons, which was elected by the common people. The United States had just one class of people, so why the two legislative branches?

A common argument he heard around the state was that without the other legislative branch, there would be no checks and balances. But he argued right back that the judicial and the executive branches would serve as checks and balances on each other.

In the end, the voters of Nebraska agreed do away with the assembly and have a senate of 49 members. Each senator is paid $12,000 a year and serves for a term of four years, half of the senate is elected every two years, and each senator is limited to two terms. In odd years, the senate serves 90 work days, and in even years they serve for 60 days, so that they work until June in the odd years, and until April in the even years.

(I don’t know whether they get retirement benefits, like our legislators do, and other “perks,” again like our legislators, but if Nebraskans are anything like I believe them to be, I’m certain their legislators don’t have any “extras.”)

Unlikely here

Such a change couldn’t happen in New York because the Legislature wouldn’t let it happen, even though the state is in dire financial straits, because to do so would cost them their salaries, their generous stipends, per diems, travel expenses, and all that graft that comes with the office. Still, it is nice to contemplate having only one legislature.

What would happen to the space that was occupied by the defunct Senate (or the Assembly) if we voted for a unicameral legislature? We could make condominiums in the space that it occupied and turn a profit on what had always been an expense.

Or the space could be used for storage, like those ubiquitous ugly storage buildings. People might pay a premium to store their goods in such an opulent place. There are a thousand possibilities.

Of course, as I noted before, such a scene in New York is just a dream. But if people remember, maybe the bums will be voted out, and then, who knows? We might even have a Constitutional Convention, and pass laws that would benefit the people for a change, not the legislators.

K.C. Halloran lives in Melrose. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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