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Last reviewed July 2022

Minnesota Issue Guide
Unicameral Legislatures

This guide is compiled by staff at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library on a topic of interest to state legislators. It introduces the topic and points to sources for further research. It is not intended to be exhaustive.

Legislative History    Books and Reports    Articles    Internet Resources    Additional Library Resources

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. For over one hundred years there were no unicameral legislatures in the United States until Nebraska switched from a bicameral to a unicameral system in 1934. Other states have considered adopting this model in the succeeding decades, but none have done so and 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. The exception was in 1999. The issue gained new prominence with the election of Jesse Ventura as governor. The idea of a unicameral legislature was made a cornerstone 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

  • House Files introduced in the 1999-2000 session proposing a unicameral legislature in Minnesota.
  • Senate Files introduced in the 1999-2000 session proposing a unicameral legislature in Minnesota.

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. Use the Journals of the House and the Journals of the Senate in print to find bills prior to 1995.

Significant Books and Reports

Bigelow, Page Elizabeth (ed.). 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. 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)

Sittig, Robert. The Nebraska Unicameral after Fifty Years. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, Department of Political Science, 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: Chuck Slocum, 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, 1998. (JK6666 .T63 1998)

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 Legislative Service Bureau, Legislative Research Division, 1993. (JF541 .M53 1993)

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

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

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

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

Significant Articles

(articles in reverse chronological order)

Hankins, William B. "Finally, Nebraska: A Synthetic Control Analysis of Legislative Structure," State Politics and Policy Quarterly, March 2020, p. 3-22.

Stassen-Berger, Rachel. "Unicameral? A No From Dayton," Star Tribune, October 13, 2010.

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

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

Rogers, James R. "Judicial Review Standards in Unicameral Legislative Systems: A Positive Theoretic and Historic Analysis." Creighton Law Review, Vol. 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.

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

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 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:

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