Nebraska Legislature - History

History

The First Nebraska Territorial Legislature met in Omaha in 1855, staying there until statehood was granted in 1867. Nebraska originally operated under a bicameral legislature, but over time dissatisfaction with the bicameral system grew. Bills were lost because the two houses could not agree on a single version. Conference committees that formed to merge the two bills coming out of each chamber often met in secret, and thus were unaccountable for their actions. Campaigns to consolidate the Nebraska Legislature into a single chamber date back as early as 1913, meeting with mixed success.

After a trip to Australia in 1931, George Norris, then US Representative for Nebraska, campaigned for reform, arguing that the bicameral system was based on the inherently undemocratic British House of Lords, and that it was pointless to have two bodies of people doing the same thing and hence wasting money. He specifically pointed to the example of the Australian state of Queensland, which had adopted a unicameral parliament nearly ten years earlier. In 1934, voters approved a constitutional amendment to take effect with the 1936 elections, which abolished the House of Representatives and granted its powers to the Senate.

Many possible reasons for the 1934 amendment's victory have been advanced: the popularity of George Norris, a fervent proponent of single-chamber government; the Depression-era desire to cut costs; public dissatisfaction with the previous year's legislature; or even the fact that, by chance, it was on the ballot in the same year as an amendment to legalize parimutuel betting on horse races. This latter coincidence may have aided the measure's passage in Omaha, where the unicameral issue was not a pressing one but horse racing was. (Gambling interests campaigned for "yes" votes on all amendments in hopes of assuring the horse-racing amendment's passage.)

The new unicameral Legislature met for the first time in 1937. Though the name of the body is formally the "Nebraska Legislature", its members are commonly referred to, especially by themselves, as "Senators". In Nebraska, the Legislature is also often known as "The Unicameral" or simply "The Unicam".

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