In the days following the mostly unexpected elections of leadership in the Legislature, the contentious selection of committee members and the dramatic floor speeches, many are still trying to sort out what happened.
And then how to get the business of the people of Nebraska completed in the next 87 working days without more session-numbing distractions?
Some say the fire that burned down the committee chairmanships of moderate and progressive senators was lit by revenge for earlier actions taken in district caucus meetings.
The senators meet as three caucuses, two with 16 members and one with 17, aligned with the First, Second and Third Nebraska congressional districts.
Bridges were burned when District 1 senators met in their caucus, Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft said last week, and she, a senior member and conservative Republican, was denied a seat on the Legislature's Executive Board. That vote, she said, was partisan and arranged in secrecy.
"I was extremely disappointed because I had waited patiently," Brasch said.
Earlier, Sen. John Murante, also a conservative Republican, had been removed from his two-year Executive Board seat by District 2 members, and replaced by a more moderate Republican.
After those actions, some senators said, a meeting was called of perhaps 20 to 29 conservative senators to decide the chairpersons they would elect, by a bloc vote.
Some of those conservative senators deny such a meeting.
Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus called the bloc voting by conservative senators a "massive bombardment," without too much consideration given to the consequences.
Half of the standing committee chairs last year were moderate to progressive senators; four of them were Democrats. This year, only one Democrat, a freshman senator, got a chairmanship. The rest were conservative Republicans and a Libertarian.
Schumacher, a moderate Republican, said the work of committees will be diminished. And he blames it on term limits.
"We're in new territory here," he said.
With term limits, only six senators have six years of experience this session. Thirty-four of 49 have two years or less, and half of those only a few days of legislative time. Three committees have chairs with no legislative experience.
What experience brings with it, Schumacher said, is the tendency to proceed with some caution, realizing that every action has a reaction.
With term limits, the history and traditions of the Legislature have become less clear.
"We lack that historical knowledge," said Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, a conservative.
All senators know, he said, is that when they walk through the door, they have only four years, or eight years at the most, to get done what they came to do.
Senators may be elected in a nonpartisan race, but the Legislature has been partisan for decades, he said.
But Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion argued the changes in the Legislature last week were not caused by partisanship.
"This is an ideological battle. This is not a partisan battle," he said.
It's the ideology of conservative versus moderates or progressives, he said. It's not about party. It's not about the good of the institution. It's about moving the state forward where conservatives want it to go, with a general agreement that less government's better than more government.
"We've been working on this for five or more years trying to get the balance back," Kintner said. "Some are going to win, some are going to lose. I'm not going to lose anymore. I'm going to win."
He acknowledged there are people in his district that disagree with him. "I totally understand there's different opinions," he said.
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte says finally the legislative body as a whole represents the mindset of Nebraskans as a whole, as shown by statewide votes that follow a certain philosophy.
"This chamber should follow that majority philosophy. And it did this year with the chairman votes," he said.
Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said conservatives may feel they are following the will of the majority with an all-conservative slate of leadership.
"But that doesn't mean that my constituents need to be silenced. ... Our voices are important," she said.
If the decision is there should only be one way of thinking, that's too bad, she said.
She and others have hope that things will settle down as the session progresses.
Schumacher compared the opening of the Legislature to animals being in "rut," in which they paw, prance, bang heads, and curl lips.
"It'll pass," he said, and senators will work together and put the Mickey Mouse business aside.
Omaha Sen. Burke Harr, who lost his Business and Labor Committee chairmanship in the shuffle, on Wednesday called the first day of the Legislature "the day the music died."
By Friday he was saying lawmaking is a long game, and no one should get too excited about one day.
"We're going to go forward and we're going to try to find a way to work together," he said.
It's easy to kill legislation. It's harder to pass it, he said. It takes mutual respect.
The focus of the Legislature hasn't changed, he said. It's still about balancing the budget, finding solutions for the Department of Corrections and finding ways to stimulate the state's economy so that one sector doesn't weigh it down.
Those are nonpartisan issues, he said.
The beauty of the institution, said Pansing Brooks, is working in coalitions with people of all parties, or all political ideologies.
"I have friendships in that body on both sides of the aisle," she said. "That is something valuable. We know there are states where (people from different parties) aren't even talking to each other."
On Friday, Brasch urged the people of Nebraska to keep watching.
"Second house, you are the salvation of our state," she said.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @LJSLegislature.
+++++Vice Chairperson. The principal duty of the vice chairperson is to preside over meetings in the absence of the chairperson. If both the vice chairperson and the chairperson are absent, the meeting is often chaired by the most senior legislative member of the committee.4
+++++Committee Members. In general, committee members may participate freely in committee discussions and debate, make and second motions and assert points of order and privilege, subject to the rules of parliamentary procedure. In committee hearings, a committee member may question witnesses only with permission of the chairperson and only to the extent the chairperson allows, but the chairperson must afford each member of the committee a reasonable opportunity to question each witness.5
+++++It is the duty of committee members to attend and participate in all committee meetings. A member who cannot be present at a meeting must notify the chairperson or committee clerk in advance, and indicate where he or she can be located should his or her presence be needed. A member must also disclose in the committee records his or her interest in all committee proceedings relating to any question which directly and immediately affects his or her personal or private right or interest, if it conflicts with the public interest.6
+++++There are currently 14 standing committees of the Nebraska Legislature. Standing committees range in composition from five to nine members. The table below lists the current standing committees along with committees that once existed but are now defunct.
|Administrative Rules & Regulations Review||Eliminated in 1986||7|
|Banking, Commerce & Insurance||Current||8|
|Business & Labor||Current||7|
|Constitutional Revision & Recreation||Eliminated in 1986||7|
|Government, Military & Veterans Affairs||Current||8|
|Health and Human Services||Current||7|
|Miscellaneous Subjects||Eliminated in 1986||8|
|Nebraska Retirement Systems||Current||6|
|Public Health & Welfare||Eliminated in 1985||7|
|Public Works||Eliminated in 1986||8|
|Transportation||Eliminated in 2002||8|
|Transportation and Telecommunications||Current||8|
+++++Agriculture Committee. The Agriculture Committee is comprised of eight members. Legislative measures referred to the committee include crop development, exports, livestock, brands, auction markets, public grain warehouses, grain storage, farming and ranching, fertilizer, agricultural chemicals, weights and measures, eating facilities, etc.7
+++++Appropriations Committee. The Appropriations Committee is the only standing committee comprised of nine members.8 It is also the only standing committee that meets every day of the week during the public hearing phase of the legislative process. Therefore, with the exception of the Chairperson, members of the Appropriations Committee are not allowed to serve on any other standing committee, except the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee.
+++++The main purpose of the Appropriations Committee is to advance a biennial state budget to the floor of the Legislature. In odd-numbered years, the Committee first receives the proposed budget recommendations of the Governor and then performs any modifications it deems necessary before forwarding the proposal for floor debate. The Committee also reviews all appropriation bills for capitol construction, salaries of state employees, and deficiency appropriations, among others. The Committee has the authority to suggest, through a legislative proposal, changes in distribution of certain taxes (i.e., the Cigarette Tax).9
+++++The Appropriations Committee annually prepares and approves a report summarizing the recommended total General Fund appropriation for each year of the following biennium. The report includes information based upon the committee's initial review of (1) state agency, board, and commission budget requests, (2) the Governor's budget, (3) the estimated revenue receipts for each year of the following biennium, (4) General Fund reserve requirements, (5) express obligations, and (6) economic conditions affecting the State of Nebraska.10
+++++The Chairperson of the Appropriations Committee annually submits a Financial Status Report following the advancement of the mainline budget bill to General File. The report includes the current estimates of available funds, express obligations for the biennial period under consideration, and other information useful to the budgetary process.11
+++++No other standing committee is cited in state law as many times as the Appropriations Committee, and there are numerous duties prescribed for the Committee in statute in relation to various programs and state agencies. For instance, state law requires the Committee to annually include in the state budget the amount necessary to fund the state aid formula under the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA).12 Other duties and responsibilities of the Committee, particularly in relation to the budget process, are discussed in later sections.
+++++Banking, Commerce and Insurance. The Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee is comprised of eight members. The subject-matter jurisdiction of the committee includes all aspects of banking and financial institutions, the Nebraska Investment Council, all aspects relating to insurance and commerce, the Uniform Commercial Code, real estate, securities law, economic development, accountancy, etc.13
+++++Business and Labor Committee. The Business and Labor Committee is one of three standing committees comprised of seven members. The committee accepts jurisdiction over such issues as workers' compensation, unemployment compensation, labor and employment relations, the Commission of Industrial Relations, fair employment practices, health and safety regulations, labor conditions, claims against the State, wages and hours, the Nebraska Elevator Code, etc.14
+++++Education Committee. The Education Committee is one of several standing committees that receive the most referred bills and resolutions each year. The committee reviews legislative proposals concerning school districts, school reorganization, compulsory education, special education, certification, post-secondary education, state colleges and universities, vocational technical schools, public school funding, the State Board of Education and the Department of Education, NETV, ESUs, etc.15
+++++General Affairs Committee. This eight member committee reviews legislative measures concerning the State Electrical Act, liquor and liquor control, gambling and lottery, cemeteries, libraries, trade names and practices, etc.16
+++++Government, Military and Veterans Affairs. The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee is comprised of eight members. The committee oversees legislative proposals that concern political subdivisions, election law, departments of state government, the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act, lobbying, correctional institutions, law enforcement, public meetings and records laws, standards for public buildings, military and veterans affairs, civil defense, apportionment and redistricting, etc.17
+++++Health and Human Services. Although often receiving a very heavy workload and number of legislative measures to consider, the Health and Human Services Committee is comprised of only seven members. The committee is usually very busy reviewing legislative proposals concerning public health, hospitals, nursing homes, mental health and retardation, professional and occupational licensing, emergency medical care, the Department of Health, the State Board of Health, housing and building standards, welfare and public assistance, the Department of Social Services, etc.18
+++++Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee consists of eight members and has the distinction of usually having the most legislative proposals referred to it each year. The committee is responsible for so many measures that the committee chair often limits the total allowable time for each public hearing. The committee's subject-matter jurisdiction includes the courts, judges, juvenile code, criminal code, crimes and punishments, criminal procedure, civil procedure, etc.19
+++++Natural Resources Committee. The eight-member Natural Resources Committee reviews issues and legislation concerning water and water rights, irrigation, flood control, the Department of Water Resources, soil conservation, public power, oil and gas, environmental issues, hazardous waste, air pollution, parks, endangered species, boating, etc.20
+++++Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee. The smallest standing committee in terms of membership is the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee, which is comprised of six members. There are so few legislative measures assigned to this committee that the committee has no regular schedule during each session. The committee meets as needed to hold public hearings and to hold executive sessions. The committee reviews all legislation relevant to the public employees' retirement systems (State Employees, School Employees, Judges, State Patrol, and Counties). The Chairperson of the Appropriations Committee is automatically a voting member of the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee.21
+++++Revenue Committee. The eight-member Revenue Committee at times receives almost as many legislative proposals as the Judiciary Committee each year. The Revenue and Appropriations Committees often work together to coordinate the income and expenses of the state and political subdivisions. The Revenue Committee oversees such issues as sales and use taxes, state income taxes, property taxes, homestead exemptions, motor fuels tax, the Department of Revenue, etc.22 The Chairperson of the Revenue Committee serves as a voting member of the Tax Rate Review Committee along with the Speaker, and the Chairpersons of the Appropriations Committee and Executive.Board.23
+++++Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee is comprised of eight members and has subject matter jurisdiction over such matters as motor vehicles, driver licensing, rules of the road, weights and measures, the Department of Roads, railroads, common carriers, pipelines, telephones and telecommunications, etc.24
+++++Urban Affairs Committee. The Urban Affairs Committee, comprised of seven members, reviews such issues relating to municipalities, special districts, zoning and annexation, housing authorities, etc.25
3. Special Committees of the Legislature
+++++The Nebraska Legislature utilizes five special committees, the most well known of these is the Executive.Board. With the exception of the Executive.Board, special committees do not usually have jurisdiction over legislative bills and resolutions but are still subject to the same procedural rules as other committees.26 Special committees are normally created by statute rather than legislative rule. However, for the 2001 Session, the Legislature created a special committee by rule for the purpose of redistricting.
|Education Commission of the States||3|
|Legislative Program Evaluation||5|
+++++Building Maintenance Committee. It is the responsibility of the Executive.Board of the Legislature to appoint the six member special committee on Building Maintenance.27 The purpose of the committee is to exercise oversight of the deferred and preventive maintenance activities for state operated buildings, including the Capitol. The selection of members is made on the basis of maintenance interest and knowledge. At least two members must be selected from the Committee on Appropriations, one of whom must be the chairperson.
+++++Education Commission of the States. The special committee on the Education Commission of the States is comprised of three appointed members of the Legislature who are selected by the Executive.Board.28 In addition, the Governor may appoint three other representatives who are not members of the Legislature. The Education Commission of the States (ECS) is a nonprofit organization designed to bring state leaders together to discuss education issues. ECS also provides state legislatures with a variety of research materials to help direct education policy decisions.
+++++Legislative Committee on Intergovernmental Cooperation. The Special Committee on Intergovernmental Cooperation consists of five senators. The members and the chairman of this committee are elected in the same manner as is customary in the case of the members and chairman of other standing committees of the Legislature. In addition to the regular members, the President (Lt. Governor) and the Speaker of the Legislature serve as ex officio (non-voting) members of this committee.29
+++++The Legislative Committee on Intergovernmental Cooperation represents half of the Nebraska Commission on Intergovernmental Cooperation, which is composed of ten regular members (five from the Legislature's committee and five individuals appointed by the Governor).
+++++The Committee functions during the regular sessions of the Legislature and also during the interim periods between sessions. The purposes of the Committee are to: (1) carry forward the participation of the state as a member of the Council of State Governments; (2) encourage and assist the legislative, executive, administrative and judicial officials and employees of the state to develop and maintain contact with officials and employees of the other states, the federal government, and local units of government; (3) endeavor to advance cooperation between the state and other units of government whenever it seems advisable to do so by formulating proposals for facilitating (i) the adoption of compacts, (ii) the enactment of uniform or reciprocal statutes, (iii) the adoption of uniform or reciprocal administrative rules and regulations, (iv) the informal cooperation of governmental offices with one another, and (v) the interchange and clearance of research and information.30
+++++Legislative Program Evaluation Committee. This five-member Committee is comprised of the Chairperson of the Executive.Board, the Chairperson of the Appropriations Committee, and three other members of the Legislature chosen by the Executive.Board.31 The Committee is designed to meet as needed for the purpose of selecting programs to be evaluated, approving scope statements and evaluation plans for program evaluation projects, reviewing completed program evaluation reports, and conducting public hearings.
+++++Executive.Board. The Executive.Board consists of a Chairperson, a Vice chairperson, and six members of the Legislature, to be chosen by the Legislature at the commencement of each 90-day session of the Legislature. In addition, the Speaker serves as a voting member of the Executive.Board. The Chairperson of the Appropriations Committee also serves on the Executive.Board but in an ex officio (nonvoting) capacity whenever the board is considering fiscal administration.
+++++During the initial session of the Nebraska Unicameral in 1937, one of the first bills to be passed involved the creation of the "Legislative Council," which currently consists of all members of the Legislature. The principle purpose of the Legislative Council is to consider legislative policies during the interim periods.32 The exact duties of the Council include examining the effects of previously enacted statutes and recommend modifications, and to generally collect information concerning the government and general welfare of the state.33
+++++The first Unicameral Legislature also created an "Executive.Board of the Legislative Council" (often shortened to "Executive.Board") in order to manage the administrative affairs of the body.34 The Executive.Board is one of five "Special Committees" of the Legislature and is truly unique among all the legislative committees. It is the only committee in which both the chairperson and vice chairperson are elected at large by the whole body. All other committees elect their own vice chairperson from among their individual memberships. The distinctiveness of electing both the vice chairperson by at large election is due, in part, to the level of importance associated with the Board. In the event the chairperson is unable to fulfill the duties of the office, the body reserves the authority to select his or her replacement, thus the at large election of both individuals.
+++++In addition to the Chairperson and Vice chairperson, other voting members of the Board include the Speaker and six members (two members elected from each of the three caucuses). The Chairperson of the Appropriations Committee serves as a nonvoting ex officio member whenever the Board is considering fiscal issues. All voting members of the Board are considered officers of the Legislature and serve two-year terms of office.
+++++Administration. The Executive.Board acts as an "administrative subcommittee of the entire Legislature" and provides administrative functions on behalf of the body on a year round basis. These administrative functions include: (1) supervision all of services and service personnel of the Legislature; (2) employment and establishment of compensation and other terms of employment for legislative personnel; (3) appointment of persons to fill various division head positions, such as the Legislative Fiscal Analyst, Director of Research, and Revisor of Statutes; and (4) contracting to obtain legal, auditing, accounting, actuarial, or other professional services or advice on behalf of the executive.board or the Legislature itself.35
+++++The Executive.Board manages seven different, yet interrelated, offices that provide services to the Legislature. These offices include the Office of the Clerk of the Legislature, the Accounting Office, the Coordinator of Legislative Services, the Revisor of Statutes, the Legislative Research Division, the Ombudsman, and the Legislative Fiscal Analysts Office.36 All such offices provide important services and support to senators and the legislative process in general. Several of these offices are explored below and others in later sections.
4. Select Committees of the Legislature
+++++The select committees of the Legislature are administrative committees designed to help facilitate the legislative process. These committees are not created by statute but instead by the Rules of the Legislature.37
|Committee on Committees||13|
|Enrollment and Review||1|
+++++Committee on Committees. As noted earlier in this document, the members of the Committee on Committees carry a particularly crucial role in the legislative process: selection of members on other committees. The Committee on Committees is expected to provide fair geographic representation on each committee under its auspices, including all standing committees.
+++++Enrollment and Review Committee. The Enrollment and Review (E&R) Committee is unique in that it is a committee of one member, the chairperson. The E&R Chairperson is also unique by virtue of selection since the youngest member of the Legislature, at the time of the election, is considered "nominated" for the position. In the absence of the E&R Chairperson, the Vice Chairperson of the Judiciary Committee assumes the duties of the E&R Chairperson.38
+++++This position is perhaps one of the few chairs that is not highly sought by members of the Legislature since it requires an ongoing diligence and awareness of the legislative process. The E&R Chair is responsible for procedurally "moving" for the adoption of E&R amendments to every bill or resolution at every stage of the legislative process. E&R amendments are technical amendments proposed by the Revisor of Statutes (bill drafters) in order to ensure accuracy in punctuation, citations, grammar, spelling, etc. It is not an uncommon sight during a session to witness the presiding officer and the E&R Chair in a continuous, almost mundane, back-and-forth effort to request and receive motions to adopt E&R amendments to facilitate the legislative process.
+++++Reference Committee. The Executive.Board serves as the Reference Committee. The Reference Committee reviews each bill and resolution and then either refers the matter to the appropriate committee (in the case of bills and resolutions to amend the Constitution) or to General File (in the case of all other resolutions and "revisor" bills). The process involves the matching of each measure with the committee which has subject-matter jurisdiction over the issue contained in the bill/resolution or which has traditionally handled the issue in the past.39
+++++Rules Committee. Some of the most heated debates during a legislative session can at times occur before even the first real legislative bill is debated. Since rules drive the legislative process, rules are of a particular interest to legislators. The Rules Committee is comprised of six members. The Chairperson is elected at large by the Legislature, the Speaker serves as an ex officio member, and four other members are selected by the Committee on Committees.
+++++Any member of the Legislature may submit a proposed rule modification. All proposed rule changes are set for public hearing within five legislative days after their referral to the Rules Committee. The hearing takes place within fifteen legislative days after the referral, and the committee must take final action on the proposal within ten legislative days after the hearing.40 If the Rules Committee, by majority vote, approves any submitted recommendations, then the same are forwarded to the legislative body for consideration.
+++++Investigating Committees. The Committee on Committees may appoint other select committees in the form of investigating committees when authorized by the Legislature. No investigating committee of the Legislature may be created except by resolution which sets forth the reasons for and the purposes of the investigation. No established investigating committee may function except during the interim between legislative sessions.411 NEB. RULES OF THE LEG. Rule 3, § 1(a).
2 Bothum, Comer, and Sittig, "Committee Assignments in the Nebraska Legislature," 70.
3 Id., 72.
7 Legislative Research Division, "Breakdown of Assignment to Committees," LRD 89-25 (September 1989), 29.
8 NEB. RULES OF THE LEG. Rule 3, § 3(a).
9 Legislative Research Division, "Breakdown of Assignment to Committees," LRD 89-25 (September 1989), 29.
10 NEB. RULES OF THE LEG. Rule 8, § 2.
11 Id., Rule 8, § 7.
12 NEB. REV. STAT. § 79-1031.01.
13 Legislative Research Division, "Breakdown of Assignment to Committees," LRD 89-25 (September 1989), 30.
14 Legislative Research Division, "Breakdown of Assignment to Committees," 30.
15 Id., 31.
18 Id., 32.
20 Id., 33.
21 NEB. REV. STAT. § 50-416.01.
22 Legislative Research Division, "Breakdown of Assignment to Committees," 34.
23 NEB. REV. STAT. § 77-2715.01(2).
24 Legislative Research Division, "Breakdown of Assignment to Committees," 34.
25 Id., 35.
26 NEB. RULES OF THE LEG. Rule 3, § 5(a).
27 NEB. REV. STAT. § 81-185.
28 Id., § 79-1504.
29 Id., §§ 81-816 to 81-824.
31 Id., § 50-1204.
32 NEB. REV. STAT. § 50-401.
33 Id., § 50-402.
34 Id., § 50-401.01.
35 Id., § 50-401.01.
36 Nebraska Legislator's Guide.
37 NEB. RULES OF THE LEG. Rule 3, § 4(a).
38 Id., Rule 3, § 4(d).
39 Id., Rule 3, § 4(e).
40 Id., Rule 3, § 4(f).
41Id., Rule 3, § 4(g).