| For the first time in living memory, there is a super majority in the California legislature. What can we do with this majority to improve life for Californians? We've discussed some issues, but there is one we should consider:
Changing the legislature.
It may take a ballot proposition, or even a new Constitution, but the current California legislature is poorly suited to meeting the needs of a state of 37 million people. We currently have a bicameral legislature with a 40 person state senate and an 80 person state assembly. This results in state senate districts larger than Congressional districts; and this can make it difficult for one to know and influence one's representative to the state government.
|The answer, it seems to me, is a larger state legislature. While there is a long history of bicameral legislatures, a unicameral legislature is not out of the question -- but one where one sets the district sizes to no more than one legislator for every 50,000 Californians. That would result in a legislature with 746 representatives.
Keeping districts small would mean better representation, each legislator has a much smaller constituency to get to know, and can meet anyone interested in making a case. It will need less money (and perhaps more hand shaking) to get elected, you will not need to make as many expensive media buys. Less money should mean less outside influence, and less chance of corruption. It will mean less dependency on corporate donations.
While 746 may seem large, it is not unprecedented. The European Union is 754, and the British Parliament is 650, with an upper house of 786. New Hampshire has a state legislature with 400 members -- one for every 3000 people.
Operating such a legislature may require significant changes. I'd suggest that the full assembly meet weekly solely to conduct up and down voting on legislation, the other four days of the week the legislature breaks into committees with specific expertise, where all debate is handled, and only on approval of the committee is the legislation referred to the whole assembly for voting. It will be up to the assembly to determine the committees, their membership, and to refer what legislation where; these committees will ideally be the composed of members with the necessary knowledge of topics to debate intelligently. For example, assembly members from farming communities can better understand farming issues; Silicon Valley for technology, etc.
Obviously, legislators may serve on multiple committees; there are thirty standing committees in the legislature at present.
The up and down vote in the complete assembly could include a report from the majority of the committee referring the legislation, and a report from the minority, to bring the issues to the attention of all the assembly members.
The key to this function is the capping of district sizes, not legislature membership numbers.