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The Legislative Process in Nebraska

Posted By Berry Law Firm || 27-Jan-2016

With the new year, the Nebraska legislature is back and, to paraphrase Twain, no one’s life, liberty, or property is safe. What should the average Nebraska resident know about how the process works?

First, the Nebraska legislature meets for either a long session (ninety working days) or a short session (sixty working days), with the long session corresponding to the biennial budget.

Short or long, it doesn’t matter: if a Senator promised to support your bill, but your bill is not a priority bill (for the Senator, the Speaker, or a committee), the bill will likely stall. This year there are about 400 carry-over bills from last session and probably about 500 new ones; lots of good ideas to die on the vine.

Second, by Nebraska Constitution, the state must balance its budget. This session there is a projected budget deficit of approximately $110 million (out of a biennial budget of $8.87 billion). The relatively small shortfall isn’t going to stop all project funding requests, but it will put a lot of focus on priorities in a year where property tax relief is a stated priority. If your bill costs money, the bill will likely stall. (Check out NebraskaSpending.gov.)

Third, almost every bill gets a hearing before one of the legislature’s 14 standing committees of jurisdiction votes on the bill. The committee hearing is the public’s only chance to testify; however, most Senators will have their minds made before hearings (and will use the opportunity to read emails).

Fourth, if a bill passes from committee, it will have to pass three rounds of floor debate before the entire body before becoming law: general file, select file, and final reading. Out of roughly about 900 bills in a given year, maybe 125 will be passed, with well over half on the consent calendar (meaning they were kicked out committee unanimously, with 15 minutes of debate scheduled, and no fiscal impact.)

Even if a bill is a priority bill, if Senator Chambers doesn’t like your bill, it’s probably going to die. Senators of both parties yield time to tenacious Senator Chambers and he stops a lot of legislation, good and bad, through filibuster. Controversial bills without the 33 votes necessary for cloture get dropped. Further, even if passed by the legislature, the Governor can also veto a bill. Unlike cloture, it takes 30 votes to override a veto, and the Governor is much less likely to insult your intelligence than Chambers.

Finally, if you call your Senator to complain about potholes, you really don’t understand what they do. Senators can introduce laws, but cannot execute them. Further, if you have a bill idea, do your research first. Don’t waste the time of a Senator who doesn’t support your ideology, who doesn’t share your legislative district, and/or who doesn’t serve on the committee of relevant jurisdiction.

For good advice on government affairs, call Berry Law Firm.