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”.

The official rules empower the Speaker with discretion and responsibility to set his/her process rules for a number of items. Things like Consent Calendar deadlines, floor debate time requirements, when the Legislature actually meets, and what day the Legislature actually adjourns for the year. There is a decorum that is followed – tradition, common courtesy and unwritten rules that have been passed down from years of the “Nebraska Way”.

Budget Process

Speaking of the “Nebraska Way”, our nonpartisan Legislature passes a balanced budget every year. An overview of the process can be found here.

During the long session – the 90 day session – the Legislature adopts the Biennial Budget. During the short session – the 60 day session – the Legislature adopts Mid-Biennium Budget Adjustments. This week, the full Legislature will begin floor debate on the Appropriations Committee Budget Recommendations for the Mid-Biennium Budget Adjustments for FY2015-16 and FY2016-17. The recommendations can be found here. For those who don’t read spreadsheets for fun, there is a handy summary at the beginning.

Check out the infographic below that Senator Mello, Chair of the Appropriations Committee, shared on social media last year illustrating the budget process during the long session. You can also look to our friends at OpenSky for accessible analysis on all things revenue and budget during this short session.