by Ron Hansen

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Describe the history or development of the Nebraska unicameral government. Why did Nebraska decide to have a unicameral government instead of a bicameral government?

The development of the Nebraska unicameral government began during the Progressive era. Many reformers regarded bicameralism as wasteful and prone to corruption. However, it wasn't until the Great Depression that the change finally came about, due largely to concern over the cost of government. In 1934, the citizens of Nebraska voted to amend the state constitution and establish the nation's first unicameral legislature.

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Up until the 1930s, Nebraska, like all American states, had a two-house, or bicameral, legislature. However, the system proved to be cumbersome and expensive. The seemingly chronic inability of the two houses to work together created legislative gridlock, impairing the ability of the legislature to get things done. During the Progressive era, campaigners in Nebraska argued that as well as being mired in gridlock, the state's bicameral system was wasteful, inefficient, and prone to corruption.

In the 1930s, US Senator of Nebraska George Norris and other reformers would take up the cause of unicameralism with considerable enthusiasm. As part of their campaign for change, they pointed to the example of the Queensland state parliament in Australia to show that unicameralism was not some dangerous experiment and that it could work in practice.

Finally, Norris's tireless campaigning paid off. In 1934, the citizens of Nebraska voted to amend the state constitution and establish a unicameral legislature. From the 1936 state elections onward, Nebraska would have just one legislative house: the Nebraska Legislature, also known as "The Unicameral."

A major factor in the approval of these constitutional changes was the onset of the Great Depression. The Depression hit the predominantly rural state of Nebraska particularly hard, and the sharp downturn of the economy focused attention on the cost of government. As well as being cumbersome and inefficient, it was argued that the existing bicameral legislature was too expensive, especially at a time of economic crisis.

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