Inside the Rotunda, Week 2

The Nonpartisan Unicameral
A spirit of collegiality was present as the 106th Nebraska Legislature convened this week and elected several progressive or moderate committee chairs.  More favorable committee memberships will also give progressives increased opportunities to get legislation to the floor and keep unwanted bills from advancing. The environment couldn’t have been different from two years ago when a gang of 27 conservative senators came in with an agreed-upon slate of candidates for chairs. Returning to a system where chairs are chosen for leadership skills and qualifications, rather than party and ideology, would certainly be pleasing to George Norris, the father of the nonpartisan Nebraska Unicameral. 

Notables elected to chairs included Senator Steve Lathrop for Judiciary, Senator Sara Howard for Health and Human Services and Senator Matt Hansen for Business and Labor. Hansen won by a single vote and his election came as a surprise to many. Talk about drama! The Capitol was aflutter with frenzied office visits, phone calls and group chats. The Legislature’s Unicameral Update offers a synopsis of all the committee races. 

Bill Introductions
Most of us are familiar with how a bill becomes a law. But what happens between the “idea” stage and the bill “introduction” stage? A lot, actually. 

Legislative Aides are responsible for working with the Reviser of Statutes Office to get bills drafted. Depending on the subject matter and breadth of statutory changes, this process can be tedious. Many bills go through several stages of revisions before they are ready for introduction. Those watching the Nebraska Unicameral live stream may wonder why Senators introduce certain bills on certain days during the ten-day introduction stretch. Sometimes there is deliberate strategy to this (timed for media exposure, delayed to see if something else happens first, etc). Other times, a Senator just introduces what is ready. It is a highly stressful time for legislative staff and the Reviser of Statutes Office. 

Senators introduced 218 bills and a few constitutional amendments the first two days of session. Bill introductions will continue until January 23 and hearings will begin next week. 

Issues on the Horizon 
Of the issues the Nebraska Legislature will tackle this session, perhaps none looms larger than Medicaid Expansion. While Don Walton at the Lincoln Journal Star describes the new legislature as “daring” and “adventurous,” he rightly points out that it still takes 33 votes to overcome a filibuster. The body’s most conservative members appear poised to fight on funding of Medicaid expansion, even after voters approved expansion at the ballot box last year. 

One issue your Capitol Fly on the Wall will be watching closely will be LB167 and LB168, introduced by freshmen Senator Megan Hunt. Both bills deal with prohibiting sexual orientation conversion therapy for minors. Last year’s film “Boy Erased” has helped shed the light on this practice. Expect Senator Hunt to ruffle feathers on important social issues this year. 

If you want to stay up-to-date on all the legislation being introduced this week, this link will be updated throughout the introduction period and will include every bill. 

Until next week, 

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall