Full Steam Ahead
Let’s talk about the ever changing, highly anticipated, strategically ordered, and occasionally loathed daily “agenda”. It can be found a few different ways on the legislature’s website. Your best bet is probably visiting the calendar page.
The Speaker sets the agenda and the agenda in turn sets the pace for the day/week. Staffers and seasoned advocates can look at the order of bills and gauge the flow of the day. Nebraskans make the decision whether to drive to Lincoln from Omaha, Grand Island and beyond based on the agenda. It’s a big deal.
The next day’s agenda is not only a hot topic, but there is a whole current of whispers throughout the Capitol building about when certain controversial bills may be scheduled on a future agenda. You might be thinking, that is a lot of attention for what amounts to a simple schedule, but entire legislative packages have lived or died based on their placement on the fluid document. Watch for much discussion later about when T-HIP (Medicaid Expansion) and other Coalition member priorities are scheduled.
The biggest issues clogging the agenda are those that carry the weight of a filibuster. Fear not, the Unicameral is not D.C. and to reiterate, the Speaker has announced a new rule in an effort to get more work done. See below.
Filibuster, Cloture, and Votes
In any given session, filibuster efforts form around issues ranging from the predictable (death penalty, immigration, choice) to what you could consider boutique issues (mountain lions, dental assistant licensure). And like all issues in the Unicam, there are normally three sides. One for a bill, one against a bill, and one group who either doesn’t have a vested interest or is truly listening to the debate. The key lies with that last group.
To break a filibuster, the “cloture” rule can be invoked. The Speaker determines how much time is required to go by before a cloture motion can be made. This session, he has reduced the required debate time for General File – the first round of debate – from 8 hours to 6 hours. When cloture is invoked, the first vote is to cease debate. If that succeeds, then votes are taken on the current amendment being considered and the bill itself. 33 votes are required for a successful cloture vote. Only 25 are needed for a bill to advance. That difference is the built in safeguard. Some Senators will support cloture on a bill, but not a bill itself.
Filibustering can get a bad rap in general, but in this one-house body, the power to do so is essential to preserving the voice of the minority – no matter how small. Everyone needs a filibuster at some point.
Last week, in an unusual turn of events, the legislature took the opportunity to have full day debate before afternoon committee hearings ramp up. With limited time in the short session, Senators are working through the agenda and taking up carry-over priority bills before new legislation hits General File. (refresher: carry- over priority bills are bills that were introduced last session and designated as priorities by a senator either this year or last.) Even after a bill advances from a committee and makes it to General File, it is not guaranteed a spot in the debate.
It all boils down to that agenda…