When the Founders wrote the Constitution, they divided the legislative branch into two houses: a Senate with two members chosen by each state’s legislature and a House apportioned by population and elected by the people.

The division, modeled on the British Parliament with its House of Lords and House of Commons, was a compromise to persuade small states to join the Union, as their views would be given equal weight in at least one of the two chambers.

So the states created their own Senates and Houses, while the 17th Amendment made the U.S. Senate popularly elected in 1913.

But one state, Nebraska, broke the mold in 1937, adopting a nonpartisan, unicameral (one-house) Legislature and reducing its size from 133 to 43. That resembles Canadian provinces, which are all governed by a single house.

Then in the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all state legislators had to be elected by proportional representation rather than geographical area, removing the last vestige of the original system.

Many states have considered a single-house system since then, but none has adopted it.

Still, a constitutional amendment is pending in Augusta that make Maine’s Legislature unicameral, but with party structure kept intact, and trim it to the 151 members now in the House (even though they would be called “senators”).

Its sponsor claims some cost savings and greater efficiencies, but the savings would be small. Even more important, having laws made more quickly and with less deliberation than at present hardly seems a desirable goal.

The current system isn’t perfect, but faster, less-well-thought-out lawmaking is no improvement on what we have.


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