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Last reviewed January 2010

Resources on Minnesota Issues
Unicameral Legislatures

This guide is compiled by staff at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library on a topic of interest to Minnesota legislators. It is designed to provide an introduction to the topic, directing the user to a variety of sources, and is not intended to be exhaustive.

A single body legislature at the state level is a rare exception in the United States. Three states were initially established with unicameral legislatures; Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. All three switched to a bicameral system by 1830. Thus for a time there were no examples of a unicameral legislature in the United States until Nebraska switched from a bicameral to a unicameral system in 1934 (History of the Nebraska Unicameral). Many other states have unsuccessfully considered adopting this model in the succeeding decades. Yet Nebraska remains the sole single body legislature in the nation.

In Minnesota many bills have been introduced over the years on this topic, but they tend to garner scant attention and support. 1999 was the exception, this issue gained new prominence that year with the election of Jesse Ventura as governor. The idea of a unicameral legislature was made one of the cornerstones of the Ventura administration's legislative agenda. In his first State of the State Address he proposed a need for "a unicameral legislature that spends at least one year out of four cleaning old and intrusive laws off the books." The idea received the backing of prominent Minnesota politicians such as then Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Steve Sviggum, a long-time supporter of moving to a single body legislature. In order to show his strong support for this change, on August 17, 1999 the Governor toured the state to promote the passage of legislation that would place a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2000 ballot to create a unicameral legislature.

During the height of the unicameral discussion, two organizations were formed. Minnesotans for a Single-House Legislature worked to increase public awareness about the benefits of a single body legislature. An alternative group, Opponents of a Unicameral House (OUCH), advocated maintaining two bodies and encouraged citizens to advocate for improvements to the current system. Former Representatives Dave Bishop and Mark Gleason were on the OUCH Steering Committee. Although several bills were introduced and heard in the 1999-2000 session, none of the bills garnered enough support to pass. Although in most sessions a bill or two continues to be introduced on this topic, to date, none has achieved as much attention as the bills introduced in the 1999-2000 session.

Legislative History



To find additional bills related to creating a unicameral legislature in Minnesota, back to 1995, type "unicameral" in the "search by keyword" search option on the House Bill Information - Basic Search and Senate Bill Information - Basic Search pages.

Significant Books and Reports

Bigelow, Page Elizabeth, Compiler. Essays on Unicameralism. New York: National Municipal League, 1972. (JF541 .B544)

Buehler, Ezra Christian, Ed. Unicameral Legislatures. New York: Noble and Noble, 1937. (JF541 .B8)

Cholik, Clare. Bicameral vs. Unicameral Legislatures. Legislative Research Council Issue Memorandum 98-03. Pierre, South Dakota: South Dakota Legislature. State Legislative Research Council, 1998. (JF541 .C56 1998)

Grau, Craig and Dale Olson. The Unicameral Option. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, 1986 (JF541 .G72 1986)

Johnson, Alvin. W. The Unicameral Legislature. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1938. (JF541.J6)

Nebraska's Unicameral. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska School of Journalism, 1970. (JK6666 .N4 1970)

Reynolds, Arthur. How Many Houses?: A Discussion of the Merits of Unicameralism for the Minnesota Legislature. St. Paul: Minnesota Constitutional Study Commission, 1972. (JF541 .R49 1972) (A Report for the Minnesota Constitutional Study Commission, Legislative Branch Committee and Professor Charles Backstrom, Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota.)

Sittig, Robert. The Nebraska Unicameral after Fifty Years. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska, Department of Political Science, April 1986. (JK6666.S48 1986)

Slocum, Chuck. A Pox on One House: the Architect of the Lobbying Effort for a Unicameral Government Explains What Went Wrong. Minnesota: The Author, 2000. (J6171 .S66 2000)

Summers, Harrison Boyd. Unicameralism in Practice: The Nebraska Legislative System. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1937. (JK6667.1937.S8)

Todd, Tom. The Minnesota Legislature: Proposals to Change Its Size and Structure. St. Paul: Minnesota House of Representatives, House Research Department, 1999. (JK6171 .T63 1999)

Todd, Tom. Nebraska's Unicameral Legislature. St. Paul: Minnesota House of Representatives, House Research Department.

Todd, Tom. Unicameral or Bicameral State Legislatures: The Policy Debate. St. Paul: Minnesota House of Representatives, House Research Department, 1999. (JF541 .T63 1999)

Unicameral Legislatures Versus Bicameral Legislatures. Lansing, Michigan: Michigan Legislative Service Bureau, Legislative Research Division, 1993. (JF541 .M53 1993)

Ventura, Jesse. Remarks on Unicameral Legislature (speech transcript). St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society, August 19, 1999.

Ventura, Jesse. Service, Not Systems. Single House Event (Hamline University, St. Paul) (speech transcript). St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society, October 20, 1999.

Ventura, Jesse. Single House Event (Armstrong High School, Plymouth) (speech transcript). St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society, December 7, 1999.

Zanotelli, Matthew Paul. The Failure of the Unicameral Legislature at the State Level in the United States Examined. 2002. (JF541 .Z36 2002)

Significant Articles

Benson, Brooke. "A House Undivided," Twin Cities Business Monthly, December 1999, p. 57+.

Ehrenhalt, Alan. "Uniquely Unicameral," Governing, January 2006, p. 7-8.

Robak, Kim. "The Nebraska Unicameral and Its Lasting Benefits." Nebraska Law Review, Vol. 96, No. 4, 1997, p. 791-818.

Rogers, James R. "Judicial Review Standards in Unicameral Legislative Systems: A Positive Theoretic and Historic Analysis." Creighton Law Review, volume 33 (December 1999), p. 65-120.

Todd, Tom. "Nebraska's Unicameral Legislature: A Description and Some Comparisons with Minnesota's Bicameral Legislature," Journal of the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring, 1998, p. 15-27.

Wunnicke, Pat. "Fifty Years Without a Conference Committee," State Legislatures, October 1987, p. 20-23.

Significant Internet Resources

"History of the Nebraska Unicameral" - From the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

"A House Divided." - Minnesota Public Radio's coverage of then Governor Ventura's August 17, 1999 tour of the state to promote a unicameral legislature.

Additional Library Resources

For historical information, check codes for the Library newspaper clipping files and the Vertical File:
L60.116 (Legislatures-Unicameral)

For additional reports at the Legislative Reference Library, use this Library catalog search:
Unicameral

Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, 645 State Office Building, Saint Paul, MN  55155