Inside the Rotunda, Week 1

Time to Fly

The Capitol is abuzz with intrigue as session begins Wednesday. Your Capitol Fly on the Wall (which is me, if you are just tuning in), has been buzzing about the Capitol. I am ready to offer some wall-to-wall reporting.

I will provide weekly updates throughout session to inform you of lawmaking processes, update you on key developments and shed light on what happens in the Capitol, all with a splash of humor interwoven here and there. Though I will have to be careful not to get caught in a spider’s web.

There is already plenty of interesting things to share, so let me begin. 

Legislative Caucuses 

The Nebraska Unicameral is often described as a body without caucuses, but this is really not entirely correct. It’s true that the Legislature does not caucus by political party, but it does have three congressional district caucuses where important decisions are made about who receives key committee assignments. Each caucus has 16 or 17 members and they meet before session to decide who from their caucus will sit on the Executive Board and Committee on Committees. These decisions are important because the Executive Board makes a lot of important decisions, including what committees to reference bills to. Referencing decisions, especially for more progressive legislation, can make or break those bills. For its part, the Committee on Committees has enormous power early in the session in determining who sits on all the standing committees of the Legislature (Appropriations, Revenue, Judiciary, Natural Resources, Health and Human Services, Business and Labor, Government, Agriculture, General Affairs, Urban Affairs, Banking, Education, Transportation and Telecommunications and Retirement). 

As you can imagine, politics and personal ambition can create tense situations in these caucuses. Rumor has it that one of the caucuses that is closely divided by conservatives and progressives (CD 1, which includes Lincoln, Bellevue, Fremont and Norfolk) is at a stalemate in deciding members of the Executive Board. This intrigue could carry over into the first day and has potential to create a toxic political note as session gets underway. It could be similar to the protracted battle over rules from 2017 that lasted weeks and ate up a lot of floor time. If agreement isn’t reached behind the scenes, expect a bruising battle on the floor of the Legislature. 

New Faces, New Spaces 

Thirteen new senators will be sworn in Wednesday. The Legislature is expected to take on a slightly more moderate makeup from the previous two years when the Gang of 27 came into session with an agreed upon slate of conservative candidates for chair positions, some of which didn’t announce intentions to run ahead of time, which is unusual. Senators and staff are on guard for surprises Wednesday as several moderate candidates appear in line for chairs, but could face last-minute challenges from the right. Still, the numbers would appear to suggest a gang of 27 scenario is far less likely this go around. 

As the Capitol undergoes construction on its HVAC project, a number of senators have been placed in the Capitol Tower, much to their chagrin. It’s created complications for meetings and access and a number of them are ready to move to better digs downstairs and let some of the freshmen have their spots. Offices are chosen by a seniority system once chairs have been elected. 

The seating chart  for the floor of the Legislature will be different this year as well, not only because of new members but because members with seniority are moving to different spots. Some senators are moving to areas where they can be closer to friends. The Legislature really is a lot like high school sometimes!

With bill introductions, office moves and all the intrigue of the beginning of session, your Capitol Fly on the Wall will have a lot of areas to cover as we head into next week. 

Get ready for the ride
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall