by Dan Meek
I have dealt with the Oregon Legislature for over 25 years, testifying before committees, engaging in negotiations over language, and trying to protect the public interest.
I have found that the activities of the Legislature are pretty much incomprehensible to anyone that does not study it in detail. A major reason for this is that the Legislature is split into two bodies, the House (60 members) and the Senate (30 members). Hundreds of times during every session, one body will pass a bill, and the other body will reject it or amend it and send it back to its body of origin, where the amendments might be accepted or rejected. Some bills get passed back and forth several times.
And I perceive that many bills are passed in one body just for "show," with the members of that body knowing full well that the other body will not pass it. Thus, the House can pass bills to show many groups of constituents that the House is looking out for their interests, knowing all the time that the Senate is not going to approve those bills. The Senate can engage in the same practice. This allows members of both bodies to claim that they really were in favor (and voted for) an issue, when in fact they knew that their votes were meaningless.
What is the solution? A unicameral (one-body) legislature would stop these games and make the Legislature far easier to understand. Nebraska has had a unicameral legislature since 1937. Nations with unicameral legislatures include Costa Rica, Portugal, Hungary, Iceland, Sweden, Slovenia, and New Zealand. Many other nations, such as the United Kingdom, effectively have a unicameral system, because one of the two bodies is merely ceremonial.
Among the advantages are greater accountability, since only one body is responsible for legislation, and less expense to maintain one body and fewer legislative members. With such a system, each vote is meaningful, and a member cannot vote for a bill knowing that the other body will kill it.
Unlike the U.S. Congress, there is no theoretical basis for a bi-cameral Oregon Legislature. The U.S. Congress was the result of compromise among the 13 founding colonies. In return for giving up its sovereignty, each colony received the same number of seats (2) in the U.S. Senate. But no one gave up any sovereignty when the Oregon Territory became the State of Oregon. Here, the senators and representatives are all elected on the basis of one-person one-vote, as required by the U.S. Constitution.
So, let's abolish the Oregon Senate and just have a 60-member House of Representatives. We could rent out the Senate floor and gallery for weddings.