AUGUSTA, Maine — House support for a constitutional amendment to replace Maine’s two-chamber Legislature with a unicameral system remained short of the required two-thirds Tuesday, while the Senate flatly rejected the proposal.
Additional House and Senate votes were pending as lawmakers lurched toward adjournment that could come as early as this week.
On Tuesday, the House gauged support with a vote to kill the plan. Of the 145 House members present 89 refused to kill the bill; 56 supported its defeat, so it’s still eligible for further debate and votes. In the Senate, no vote was requested and the bill was rejected.
The proposed constitutional amendment would reduce the Legislature to a single, 151-member body. The Legislature has a 151-member House of Representatives and 35-member Senate.
It takes two-thirds of the lawmakers present for a constitutional amendment to go before the voters. Meaning, if every member of the House voted, it would take 101 votes; if every member of the Senate voted it would take 24.
“If there were only one house … I’m firmly convinced members would be more responsible on what they’re voting on,” said Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, who had a long stint as speaker and has served in both chambers.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, is one of two calling for a trimmed-down Legislature that have surfaced this session.
A bill introduced by Rep. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, seeks to reduce the size of the Maine House to 131 seats without making any change in the Senate.
While Flood’s bill calls for a November referendum, Valentino’s would go to voters in 2010. Neither change would take place until 2014, giving lawmakers time to prepare for the reduction.
Nebraska is the only state with a unicameral lawmaking body, but proposals calling for similar systems have come up in at least one other state and territory this year. The bills in Connecticut and Puerto Rico both died.
Supporters of the Maine bill said it would save the state $11 million per two-year session and increase the efficiency and accountability of the Legislature. Martin said it would stop the practice of giving one body easy votes on tough issues while leaving it to the other chamber to act decisively.
“We learned in the fourth grade there is a House and Senate, and we need to get beyond that thinking,” said Valentino.
Rep. Benjamin Pratt, D-Eddington, said Maine already has a head start toward a unicameral Legislature because its committees have joint House-Senate membership.
An opponent, Rep. James Martin, D-Orono, said the current system allows for checks and balances between the chambers. House members represent fewer people and have a closer connection to their constituents, he said, while senators can view issues from a broader perspective.
“I don’t always agree that smaller is better,” said James Martin.