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January 16, 2014

Enid lawmaker proposes downsizing Legislature

Ada — An Oklahoma lawmaker wants to make the Legislature smaller, saying his proposal could save the state more than $16.5 million a year.

Sen. Patrick Anderson will need voters’ help to make his proposal a reality.

The Enid Republican has proposed amending the Oklahoma Constitution to eliminate 101 elected positions across the state. The measure would effectively abolish the Oklahoma House of Representatives and create a single-chamber Legislature consisting of 48 lawmakers.

Switching to a one-chamber Legislature would save money and make state government more transparent, Anderson said in a news release. He noted that Nebraska has had a unicameral Legislature since 1937.

“We are asking all of our state agencies to make cuts and reduce costs,” he said. “As lawmakers, we should reserve the same scrutiny for our own process. Why not lead by example and eliminate the unnecessary expenses that exist in the Legislature?”

Anderson did not return a call seeking further comment Tuesday.

Rep. Todd Thomsen said Anderson’s proposal would defeat the purpose of structuring the Legislature so it includes checks and balances. He added that the legislative process is designed to be difficult and laborious.

“Most people find the legislative process extremely frustrating,” the Ada Republican said Thursday. “It’s supposed to be frustrating, and it’s suppose to be difficult. The last thing we need is an easier way to pass more laws.”

Sen. Susan Paddack, D-Ada, said a single-chamber Legislature would be less partisan and could save taxpayers money, but it could lead lawmakers to expand Senate districts.

As a result, she said, lawmakers would have fewer opportunities to communicate with voters.

“I wouldn’t have as much one-on-one interaction with my constituents if I had that many constituents,” she said. “I just think it would be very difficult.”

Assuming the measure passes the Legislature, it would be put on the ballot for voters to consider.

Proposals to reduce the size of state legislatures are fairly common, but they are generally unsuccessful because they fail to win support from lawmakers and voters, said Brenda Erickson, senior research analyst with the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Normally, they don’t even get out of the legislature,” she said.

Supporters of proposals to downsize legislatures contend that the change will save money and boost efficiency, but that’s not always the case, Erickson said. She noted that Illinois tried to cut costs in 1982 by eliminating 59 legislative seats, reducing the House from 177 lawmakers to 119.

Ten years later, a study found that Illinois responded by increasing the size of lawmakers’ districts and adding more legislative staffers, negating any possible savings.

Reach Eric Swanson at adanewsreporter@cableone.net.

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