Understanding the Legislature

The 104th Legislature, 2nd Session begins this week! 

There are some certainties that Coalition for a Strong Nebraska members can count on during these first 10 days of bill introduction. The Unicameral will see legislation introduced that would fight poverty, legislation introduced that would foster the growth of poverty, and legislation introduced that simply forgets poverty exists in Nebraska. Look here for updates in all three categories (as prioritized by the Coalition) in the months ahead. 

While tax policy, medicaid, education, and prison reform have been widely cited as key issues this session, addressing the $132 million dollar projected budget shortfall will be a priority looming over these and all policy discussions. 

Setting the Stage: Press Roundup  

  • Check out this quirky and informative piece from the Lincoln Journal Star. 
  • NET’s pre-session buzz features several committee chairs. 
  • Medicaid Reform efforts are highlighted in this Omaha World Herald story.
  • Spotted: Senator Crawford and Kaitlin Reece in the Omaha World Herald’s photos from the Capitol this week. 

Quick Facts  

  • 2016 Legislative Calendar 
  • This is the “short session” – limited to 60 working days.  
  • This session will run from January 6th – April 20th (approximately). 
  • The Speaker has discretion to revise the calendar.   
  • Once the Rules are adopted, debate will begin with 2015 carryover priority bills. (see below)
  • The Speaker publishes memos that have timely information regarding deadlines, rule changes and other information. They can be found on his page here.   

New Website 

For those direct policy advocates who are seasoned in navigating the Nebraska Legislature’s website, prepare to do a double take – if you haven’t already – when you bring up the page for the first time. The site has been revamped, but the key elements are all still there. Most notably, the “find your senator” application is in clear view on the right side of the homepage, along with the NET live streaming link. 

Process Breakdown

Now begins what is sure to be a refresher for most, a new lesson for others, and a reference to look back to when updates get technical in a few weeks… 

The nonpartisan nature of the legislature is conducive to coalition building around particular policies. There are 49 state senators in the Nebraska Unicameral and each senator is limited to two consecutive terms of 4 years a piece. Senators who are serving in their last session are often referred to as “term-limited”. 

Senators will introduce all legislation during the first ten days of session. A public hearing will be held on every bill that is introduced. There is an opportunity for oral testimony and written testimony for every piece of legislation during a committee hearing. For first time testifiers, the Clerk of the Legislature has provided these helpful tips in both English and Spanish. 

Though every bill has a public hearing, not every bill is debated by the full legislature.  Even after advancing from committee (the first obstacle), a bill is not guaranteed to be placed on the agenda for debate. However, each senator is able to designate one “priority bill” and each committee is able to designate more than one “priority bill”. Additionally, the Speaker designates his own list of priority bills and has the authority to have “super priorities”…this last action is rare and therefore will be addressed in a later update if necessary. The majority of “priority bills” are debated by the full legislature – if time allows.

During a short session, the “consent calendar” plays a big role in the legislative body working through the agenda. Bills are eligible for consideration for the consent calendar based on guidelines set by the Speaker. Generally, the consent calendar is for bills that will not take a lot of time during debate on the floor.

An infographic – reminiscent of school house rock – is attached to this email. Thank you to Coalition member Voices for Children for letting us share “How a Bill Becomes a Law in Nebraska”.

Wrapping Up 

Future updates will be focused on Coalition action, policy priorities, and other related news from the Capitol.  

Bill Becomes a Law in Nebraska

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