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On Unicameralism

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"The Salvation of the state is watchfulness in the citizen."

Facts

Below, you will find the answers to a number of frequently asked questions about the unicameral system in Nebraska. If an answer is followed by an asterisk, you may click on the asterisk to view the source material for the information. These sources are listed at the bottom of the page in the Select Biography.

What is a unicameral legislature?
A legislature is unicameral if it consists of only one house.
How many unicameral legislatures are there in the United States?
Only one: Nebraska has the only unicameral legislature in the country. Since Nebraska's legislature only has one house, it also has the smallest legislative branch in the country - 49 senators.
How long has the Nebraska Legislature been a one-house body?
Citizens passed an initiative to amend the Nebraska Constitution in 1934, and the first session of the Unicameral Legislature was held in 1937. The initiative was approved by a vote of 286,086 to 191,152.
Which half of the original bicameral legislature still exists in Nebraska?
Although generally referred to as the "legislature" or the "Unicameral," the Senate is the legislative body that was retained following the 1937 reorganization. Consequently, members of the legislature are referred to as "senators."
Have any other states had unicameral legislative branches?
Although other states have taken an interest in unicameral legislatures, Nebraska remains the only state in the country that has implemented a unicameral system.
How many legislators are in the Nebraska Legislature? For how long do they serve?
There are 49 members of the Nebraska Unicameral, each serving a term of four years.
How many legislators served in the Nebraska Legislature prior to 1937?
There were 133 members of the legislature prior to the 1937 reorganization.
How many citizens does a Nebraska legislator represent?
Each legislative district in Nebraska serves about 35,000 citizens.
What are the requirements for an individual to become a member of the Unicameral?
According to the Nebraska Constitution, an individual must be a registered voter and at least 21 years of age, and candidates must live within the district in which he or she is running for at least one year prior to being elected.
How often is the Nebraska Unicameral in session?
The Legislature is in session every year. A session lasts 60 legislative days in even-numbered years and 90 legislative days in odd-numbered years. Sessions convene on the first Wednesday following the first Monday in January of each year.
What are the steps in the lawmaking process in Nebraska?
Each bill introduced in the Nebraska Unicameral goes through a committee and is subjected to three rounds of floor debate before it can become a law. For a more detailed look at lawmaking in Nebraska, visit the Lawmaking in Nebraska page.
How does the efficiency of the unicameral system compare to that of the bicameral system in Nebraska?
In Nebraska, the one-house system is more efficient than its predecessor. The number of committees was pared down from 61 to 18, and 581 bills were introduced in 1937 as opposed to twice as many the previous session. The last bicameral session in 1935 ran 110 days, passed 192 bills and cost $202,593. The first unicameral session two years later ran 98 days, passed 214 bills and cost $103,445.
Does the Nebraska Unicameral have any other distinctive features?
The Unicameral is also the only nonpartisan legislature in the country. Being a nonpartisan legislature means that a candidate's political party is not listed on the election ballot. The two candidates who obtain the most votes in the primary election face each other in the general election. In other states, each party selects a winner in the primary, and the winners of each party run against each other in the general election. Also unlike other states, Nebraska's legislative leadership is not based on party affiliation.
Who is George Norris?
U.S. Sen. George William Norris, considered the architect of Nebraska's unicameral system, served in the United States Senate from 1913-1943. Norris was instrumental in generating support for Nebraska's switch to a unicameral legislature, and produced several articles and speeches detailing his support for the change.
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Why did Norris advocate a unicameral system?
Norris advocated a unicameral system over a bicameral system for a number of reasons: First, Norris felt that a unicameral system would be less costly and more efficient than a bicameral system. Second, a unicameral system would have no need for inter-house conference committees, which Norris felt conducted their business in secretive, undemocratic ways. Finally, Norris believed that the activities of a small legislature would be more open to public scrutiny, and would thus be less corrupt than a larger legislature.
Who was the first female member of the Unicameral?
Nell Krause, appointed to fill a vacancy in 1946, was the first female member of the Unicameral Legislature. Krause served for seven days during the special session held in 1946.

Select Bibliography:

Miewald, Robert. Nebraska Government and Polotics. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 1984.

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Published by the United States Congress.