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Unicameralism is the practice of having only one legislative or parliamentary chamber. Many countries with unicameral legislatures are often small and homogeneous unitary states and consider an upper house or second chamber unnecessary.

A view in favor of unicameral legislatures is that if an upper house is democratic, it simply mirrors the equally democratic lower house, and is therefore duplicative. A theory in favor of this view is that the functions of a second chamber, such as reviewing or revising legislation, can be performed by parliamentary committees, while further constitutional safeguards can be provided by a written Constitution.

In many instances, the governments that now have unicameral legislatures were once bicameral and subsequently eliminated the upper chamber. One reason for such a change is because an elected upper house has overlapped the lower house and obstructed passage of legislation, an example being the case of the Landsting in Denmark (abolished in 1953). Another reason is because an appointed chamber has proven ineffectual, one example being the case of the Legislative Council in New Zealand (abolished in 1951).

Other nations, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, have technically bicameral systems that function much as unicameral systems, because one house is largely ceremonial and retains few powers. Thus, in the United Kingdom, control of the House of Commons determines control of the government, and the unelected House of Lords has the power only to delay legislation and to recommend amendments.

Supporters of unicameralism note the need to control government spending and the elimination of redundant work done by both chambers. Critics of unicameralism point out the double checks and balances that a bicameral system affords, forcing a greater level of consensus on legislative issues. A feature of unicameralism is that urban areas with large populations have more influence than sparsely populated rural ones. In many cases the only way to get sparsely populated regions on board a unified government is to implement a bicameral system (such as the early United States). Supporters say this is an advantage, as they see it provides better Apportionment (politics) while opponents see giving more power to rural regions as a goal in itself.

Some of the subnational entities with unicameral legislatures include Nebraska and the Virgin Islands in the United States, the Australian states and territories of Queensland, Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, all of the provinces and territories in Canada, all of the German Bundesländer (Bavaria having abolished its Senate in 1999), and all of the Italian Regioni.

In the United Kingdom, the devolved Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly are also unicameral.

Virtually all city legislatures are also unicameral in the sense that the city councils are not divided into two chambers. Until the turn of the 20th century, bicameral city councils were common in the United States.

In a referendum held on July 10, 2005, Puerto Rican voters approved the change to a unicameral legislature by 456,267 votes in favor (83.7%) versus 88,720 against (16.3%). The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico currently has a bicameral legislature comprising a Senate and a House of Representatives. Another referendum will be held in that commonwealth during 2007 to approve the specific amendments to the Puerto Rican Constitution that are required for the change. If those constitutional changes are approved, Puerto Rico will switch to a unicameral legislature in 2009.

[edit] Unicameralist trends within the States of the United States

Within the individual United States, bicameralism was usually modeled upon that of the United States Federal Government, with the upper house, in analogy to the states, consisting of State Senators who represented geographic areas independent of their population, typically counties.

In 1964, a US Supreme Court decision (Reynolds v. Sims, often called "one person, one vote"), voided this arrangement as applied to states. In response to this most states have replaced the fixed geographic boundaries with more flexible State Senatoral Districts, an analog of districts apportioned (by equal population) to the lower house (in California, the State Assembly Districts). In such cases the term of office for the upper house will usually be longer and the number of seats less than that of the lower house. Like the districts of the lower house they are now subject to the process of Gerrymandering, with boundaries manipulated to favor incumbents of both parties (as in California), or to favor the majority party (as in Texas). Since the upper house of a state legislature offers a path of upward mobility to members of the lower house, bicameralism is highly favored by the legislative members, particularly when term limits are enforced. Its actual need, however, has become highly questionable in terms of both the legislative process and of representative government. The long term evolution of political thought within the states of the United States would appear to favor unicameralism but at present there is substantial indifference to reform by most of the electorate and great resistance to change by politically powerful interests.

In 1999, Governor Jesse Ventura said that Minnesota should adopt a unicameral system. Though debated, the idea was never adopted.

In 2006, a group of Michigan voters called "Unicameral Michigan" were ultimately unsuccessful in their attempt to place an initiative on the November 7th general election ballot to make that state's 110-member House of Representatives the sole chamber of the Michigan Legislature.

[edit] Examples

Image:Unibicameral Map.png
██ Nations with bicameral legislatures.██ Nations with unicameral legislatures.██ No legislature.

[edit] See also

es:Unicameralidad fr:Monocamérisme id:Sistem satu kamar nl:Eenkamersysteem ja:一院制 pl:Unikameralizm ro:Unicameralism zh:一院制


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