With popular approval of the California State Legislature currently at 16 percent, maybe it’s time the voters should be given the chance to reform the state legislature. A commonly proposed idea for reform of the state legislature would be to change its structure from a bicameral body with two legislative houses to a unicameral body, where the legislature would consist of a single house. Currently, California has a 120 member state legislature that is split between an 80 member Assembly and a 40 member Senate. Maybe California would be better served with a 120 member unicameral legislature, where all 120 legislators serve in a single chamber. The benefits to such a change would be substantial.
One benefit would be to reduce the amount of people each legislator represents without having to increase the amount of legislators. Currently an Assemblymember represents over 400,000 people while a Senator represents over 800,000 people, which is more than a U.S. Representative at 600,000 people. If California had a 120 member unicameral legislature, each legislator would represent closer to 300,000 people. Another benefit of a unicameral legislature is that it would save the state of California money because the state would only have to fund a single chamber and its associated staff rather than two separate chambers and two separate sets of staff. The amount of money allocated to each legislator would also decrease because it takes less money to represent a district of 300,000 people than a district of 800,000 people. The legislative process would also be streamlined since all legislative activity would occur within a single house. Currently, both the Assembly and the Senate must agree to a piece of legislation before it goes to the Governor to be signed or vetoed. Under a unicameral system, the legislature simply votes to pass a bill, where it would then go to the Governor to be signed or vetoed.
An efficient way to implement a unicameral legislature here in California would be to eliminate one legislative house and increase the size of the remaining house by the same amount of legislators. Changing the structure of the legislature, however, would require a vote of the people, as well it should. Some people support the current bicameral system, which is all the more reason to have a public referendum on the issue because it gives both sides of the issue a chance to present their case to the voters the merits of each system. The only U.S. state with a unicameral legislature is Nebraska, maybe California should think about becoming the second.