OLYMPIA, Wash. – The budget stalemate that has the Washington state Legislature in a special session right now isn't so much between Democrats and Republicans as it is between the House and the Senate.
With 98 House members and 49 Senators who can't agree, some are asking if Washington really needs two houses.
Voters in Nebraska decided long ago that lawmakers might get more done if there were fewer lawmakers to begin with. In the 1930s, Nebraskans were so frustrated, they voted to cut the Legislature from 133 members down to just 49.
As a result, Nebraska no longer has a Senate – the only state in the country that can say that. Today, the Nebraska House meets in what is called a unicameral legislature, meaning one house.
Nebraska is facing a nearly $1 billion budget deficit, but they still passed a state budget this week and are thinking about wrapping up their regular session early.
"We work things out. We sit across tables. We hammer out our differences," said Mike Flood, Nebraska's Legislature Speaker.
"Well, that's an idea that is batted around from time to time," said Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Lacey.
Fraser was on a governor's committee that went around the state collecting ideas from citizens on how to save money. On the committee's final list was an idea to establish a unicameral legislature, just like Nebraska.
"I like it," said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish. "Things happen faster, and you can hold people accountable."
"Faster is not better," said Sen. Adam Kline, a critic of the idea. "Faster is by no means better. Faster is just faster."
Kline says there's a good reason to have a House and Senate. He says senators take a longer view because they have four year terms and he says, on occasion, one chamber catches something the other didn't.
"And someone says 'Hey, wait a minute, hold on. There's a problem with it.' And we say, 'Oh, my goodness. How did that get out of here? We made a mistake,'" said Kline.
Flood says there are plenty of chances to catch mistakes because the Nebraska system is more open to the public. Unlike Washington state, where House and Senate negotiators hammer out differences behind closed doors, Nebraska's one house doesn't have private negotiation. Even so-called executive sessions are open to reporters.
Nebraskans say they believe part of what makes their legislature work is that it is non-partisan. Candidates don't run as Democrats or Republicans.
"There's no party structure. There's no party leader and party whip. There's nobody coming to the Republican caucus and saying, 'We will vote this way,'" said University of Nebraska Associate Dean Charlyne Berens.
With no formal party structure and no caucuses, lawmakers say coalitions come and go and very few votes are along party lines.
"I don't know what it's like in Iowa or Washington, or California," said Flood. "But, I know what it's like here and this works for us."
In 1889, Washington's Constitution specifically called for a House and a Senate. State Supreme Court Justice Gerry Alexander our founders were very suspicious of government.
"I don't know if they sat down and said, 'Let's develop a government that's inefficient,' but I think they wanted it to not be super-efficient so that things could be rammed through in haste," said Alexander.
The state of Maine is now debating whether to combine its House and Senate. A couple of years ago, it became a debate when gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio proposed it. In Minnesota, former Governor Jesse Ventura also tried to make it happen.