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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