Saying Thanks

Thank You and Good Night.

During session, senators’ inboxes are flooded with emails pleading them to vote a certain way. But, the emails that shine through – the emails that just might trigger a smile or reinforce a decision – are the “thank you” emails. It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare – quite the contrary.

Gratitude may be shown in all caps with a big, bold, THANK YOU in the subject line or a professional, factual, paragraph of recognition.

Looking for a Senator’s email addresses? They are listed on the Legislature’s website.

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Rules, Budgets, and Bills

The Rules of the Nebraska Legislature are similar to the rules we have in this place we call “society”. There is the black and white, written rule and then there is the gray – the room for interpretation, the discretion of “the chair”, and the masterful way each individual rule can be used for one’s advantage or tapped as a hammer when needed.

The Rules of the Nebraska Legislature are so critical to the process that each session, senators must adopt the rules before any other action can take place. Of course, you have to have the black and white before you can even get started. There is a Rules Committee of the Legislature and a Rules Chair. We can go down that road another time, but for now let’s start with the basics. Here are the rules for the 2016 Legislative Session. If you are following floor debate on a specific bill, the answers you seek may be buried in the rules…example:

Germaneness – Is the amendment “germane” to the bill? What is the requirement? Who decides? When can this even come up?

Translation: Germaneness is as much of a rule as a tactic. It is the ultimate “gray”.

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Getting Noticed!

Ever heard of “Sarpy County Sundays” or “Bellevue Cupcakes”?

“Bellevue Cupcakes” happened last week in the Unicameral and it was a big deal. Kidding aside – just like no two days on the Legislative floor are alike, each business day is filled with different posters, people, and prepared food.

First, let’s talk posters. Any group can reserve the first floor rotunda for informational displays. So, if an organization is looking to offload some informational swag – the location next to the information desk is a prime spot. Educational posters and displays about everything from heart disease, human trafficking, and atheism can be found on display in a given week. Some displays are more advanced and some are just your variety science project poster board quality.

For more direct advocacy – lobby days are often connected to specific bills. A lot goes into the organizing of T-shirts, buttons, and ensuring turn-out. Whether the group is “pulling senators off of the floor” or sitting in the balcony in force watching floor debate, the goal is visibility. Sometimes it doesn’t work out as planned. Alas, a lobby day isn’t the only way…

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Halfway There!

The Legislative Session hit the half way point last week – halfway through the scheduled 60 working days. So what are the benchmarks and what is next? For senators, staff, advocates, and journalists – 60 days of session may feel like a race, but don’t be quick to compare 60 days of working to 60 minutes on the treadmill.

Unlike marathons, session isn’t about “setting a pace”. It’s more of a Warrior Dash – or a triathlon for the extreme among the group. The first ten days, that is the real push – it’s exciting – everyone is hopeful and fresh from pre-race rituals like family time and checking in with allies. Then it hits you, the hearings. Hearings can be like crawling through the mud pit or maybe a better analogy would be running through a tunnel with people hitting you with those big foam bats…

A bill you support has a hearing today and you plan on testifying. Perfect. How about a snow storm to clog the interstate? Feeling all warm and fuzzy about how great a bill will be for Nebraskans? Well, let’s just throw a giant fiscal note on it and see how that goes. Luckily, there are at least one or two people running through that same tunnel in front and behind you all aiming toward the same goal and you get to hand off the baton and share in the hearing victory or defeat. Now that we have overextended that metaphor…let’s get back to the technical.

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It’s All About Priorities

Simply put, priority designation is a big deal in the Nebraska Legislature. There are personal priorities, committee priorities, and Speaker priorities. The list of priority bills is public and can be found here, with one category noticeably missing. Speaker priorities are the highly anticipated, last chance to dance list to be announced.

In the short (60 day) session, priority designations are critical. The likelihood of debate on a bill by the full legislature is directly tied to its priority status or lack thereof. In the Unicameral, priority designation can be quite literally a noun, a verb, and an adjective:

Priorities are up online.
Does the bill have a priority?
He/she prioritized that bill.
It’s a priority bill.

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Press, Revenue, Medicaid

Press Round Up

ICYMI: Last week, there was an incident causing the Speaker of the Legislature to stand up “on the floor” and defend the Unicameral, its members, and its traditions in light of some comments made by another Senator. Both the OWH and the LJS covered the unusual event. You won’t find a link to the originally “authored” op-ed in this blog, but it is available online.

Revenue Defense

During the LB 959 hearing in the Education Committee, Governor Ricketts touted the bill as “cattle farmer common sense” while school officials and teachers lined up against the property tax plan. LB 959 was introduced by Senator Sullivan on behalf of the Governor. It is the sister bill to Senator Gloor’s LB 958 in the Revenue Committee, also introduced on the Governor’s behalf.

Medicaid Expansion

Nearly 40 testifiers went to the LB 1032 hearing to make the case for Medicaid expansion in front of the Health and Human Services Committee on February 10th. LB 1032 was introduced by Senator McCollister and is the latest attempt at passing a form of Medicaid Expansion. The hearing kicked-off in an unusual way with the Chair of the Committee reading a paragraph from the bill’s fiscal note into the microphone.

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Social Media: #NELeg and the Digital Conversation

If you haven’t embraced it already, now is the time to follow #NELeg.

As with all other forms of news, social media is sometimes the fastest way to get legislative information. Likewise, as with all regular forms of social media browsing, there is the oversharing, the selfies, and the irrelevant. But occasionally, social media conversations can shape a debate.

Communication around the Capitol has been a slow transformation from exclusively discrete conversations in the rotunda to what we now see in the occasional twitter war. Last session, a Wallaby from the Lincoln Zoo made a visit and twitter and Facebook exploded as if there was a big foot sighting. In all seriousness, sometimes social media updates are critical for those in the building. Just this last month, when there was a shooting involving police on a street adjacent to the Capitol, updates were happening live on twitter faster than Capitol Security was able to send an official email to employees.

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How to Get Your Voice Heard

The Real Deal

Without the real deal, the policy making process can miss the mark.

Every bill in the Nebraska Unicameral has a public hearing. This tradition is baked into the process and (most) Senators attend all hearings, listen to hours of testimony, and ask thoughtful questions.

You will almost always hear a thank you to the mother who shared her story through tears in the Health and Human Services Hearing, an acknowledgement to the correctional officer who came before Judiciary to tell his story from the day-to-day grind, and a thoughtful question or two proposed to the well prepped high school student who went before the Education Committee. These are small, but not trivial things. They are part of what makes the Unicameral tick.

Every. Person. Has. A. Chance. To. Be. Heard.

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Controlled Chaos and Medicaid Expansion

Controlled Chaos

Session is in full swing. While the consistency of the public hearing schedule and the daily agenda is ever-present, variety is in store as the Capitol is a buzz every day with different interests, press conferences, and lunch and learns.

Press Round Up

Don Walton’s write up offers a quick synopsis of an array of political topics including filibusters, Ben Sasse’s Twitter account, and the latest in the “Governor greeting the President” controversy.

On the topic of filibusters – here are a two articles for you to catch up on the gun debate set to resume Monday January 25th: Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World Herald.

Learn more about Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services testifying against a coalition member priority LB 690, the bill that would remove the barrier for individuals with drug felonies to access SNAP benefits.

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Calendar, Agenda, and Voting

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.

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