The first week of the Legislature is under our belt and we got a good taste of how the session might go. After all the ceremonial activities, we spent the first day approving temporary rules and electing the new leadership and committee chairs.
I was happy to be elected by my peers in the third caucus to serve on the Committee on Committees. This committee consists of 13 members, one chairperson and four from each of the three caucuses (generally aligning with Nebraska’s three Congressional Districts). The role of the Committee on Committees is to determine committee membership for the next two years. This can be a complicated process because committees meet on different days of the week and each Senator must have a committee assignment for each day of the week. In addition, there needs to be representation from each caucus on all of the committees.
As a general rule, committee assignments are based on committee preferences submitted by each Senator, seniority, expertise, and membership balance among the caucuses. Although the Legislature is a non-partisan body, there has always been a tendency to balance committees based on the conservative or liberal leanings of the individual committee members for key committees. Caucuses add members on a rotating basis as the Committee on Committees does its work. For example, if the chair of a committee is from the third caucus, the first caucus will have the first selection for the next member of that committee. This is followed by the second and the third caucuses, until the committee is filled. After this process is completed, the entire Committee on Committees votes to release a preliminary report. The next day, the Committee meets again to make any final adjustments based on trades that the members of the Legislature may have requested since the initial report was released. Political jockeying can make this process controversial; in the end, however, the Committee must approve any changes by a majority vote.
This year, the final report from the Committee on Committees was released for approval by the Unicameral on Friday. The report cannot be amended on the floor, so the Unicameral can either vote to accept the report or return it to the Committee for changes. This session, there was a motion to return the report to the Committee because some Senators were unhappy with the Committee’s handling of change requests and the Legislature adjourned on Friday with this issue still unresolved.
The Legislature will take the final Committee on Committee report back up on Monday. I expect the full body to ultimately approve the report. Once finalized, committee chairs can set up initial meetings of their committees to select vice-chairs and prepare for upcoming hearings.
In addition to leadership and committee selection, Senators and Committees begin introducing the bills that will be considered in 2023. In the first week, 145 bills and seven constitutional amendments were filed. I introduced five bills, including one to require two-person train crews, and have at least a couple more to file. Senators and Committees can continue to introduce bills through Day 10, which is scheduled to fall on January 18. As bills are introduced, the Reference Committee meets to assign bills to the standing committee with jurisdiction over the topic. From there, committee chairs will schedule hearings for all of the bills referred to their committee sometime between January 23 and March 24.
Although every bill gets a committee hearing, not every bill will be voted on by a committee, much less advance to the floor for consideration by the full Legislature. If you are interested in a specific bill, I encourage you to participate in the hearing process by testifying, submitting written comments for the record, or watching the bill’s hearing. All floor debates and committee hearings are live-streamed by Nebraska Public Media.
After a busy week, Julie and I had the privilege of attending the Inaugural Ball for Governor Jim Pillen. I look forward to working with Governor Pillen and his staff as we move forward together to do the people’s work. The theme of the Governor’s address was Day by Day, based on a message that he heard from Coach Tom Osborne when Governor Pillen was a member of the Husker football team. I would like to join Governor Pillen in thanking Governor Pete Ricketts for all of his work done on behalf of the State of Nebraska, particularly through the COVID-19 pandemic. He did an outstanding job of leading our state over the past eight years and left the state in a great fiscal position. I wish him the best in his future endeavors.
In closing, I want to acknowledge all the ranchers who have been dealing with the winter storms in recent weeks. My prayers are with you and your operations; please know I remain available to help facilitate any additional assistance you may need to get access to feed and care for your cattle. Both Governor Ricketts and Governor Pillen have been helpful in mobilizing additional state resources to clear county roads. Governor Pillen has assured me that they will continue to have your backs.
I look forward to hearing from constituents about the bills we will be working on this year. Please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729 with your opinions and stories.