AUGUSTA, Maine — Making Maine the second state with a unicameral Legislature would improve transparency, efficiency and accountability of lawmaking, the sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment told a legislative committee Monday.
Rep. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, also said her proposal to replace the present Senate-House system with one body would save taxpayers $11 million by effectively eliminating the expenses of the Senate. Members of the new 151-member body would be called senators under Valentino’s proposal. Maine’s House now has 151 seats.
Nebraska is the only other state with a single-body legislature. Making Maine the second faces difficult odds. It would require a two-thirds vote by both the House and Senate, then approval by voters. Valentino’s bill calls for a reapportionment plan by the Legislature that convenes in 2013 if her bill passes. A similar measure was defeated in 2009.
In her presentation to the State and Local Government Committee, Valentino said her proposal would eliminate the $300,000 cost for each of the 35 senators under the present system, adding up to nearly $11 million. But Valentino said the potential savings was not her primary concern.
“It’s really not about saving money,” she told the committee. “I really think it’s a better form of government.”
With bills in a single legislative venue, it would be easier for the public to focus on the legislation, Valentino said.
Errors, oversights and omissions that now occur as bills fly back and forth between the House and Senate would be greatly reduced, especially late in the session when the pace of lawmaking is hurried, she said. And a unicameral system would also improve the committee system by smoothing meeting schedules and improving members’ attendance, Valentino said.
The single-body system also would eliminate a practice of some lawmakers to vote for bills that are too costly or poor policy, but are still popular.
“A single-house legislature, in contrast, knowing that its decisions are final, acts only with great care and diligence,” Valentino said.
In Nebraska, terms are four years and the 49 senators are elected on a nonpartisan basis. The Maine proposal leaves the present partisan system, but senators would serve two-year terms.
No one testified against Valentino’s bill, and the committee did not vote on it.
Rep. Terry Hayes of Buckfield, the assistant Democratic House leader, told the committee she voted against the bill in committee in 2009 but changed her mind when it came up for a floor vote because she thinks voters should decide whether to go unicameral.
“I think it should be on the ballot,” Hayes said.