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Nebraska Legislature
Coat of arms or logo
Type
Type
Term limits
2 consecutive terms
Leadership
Joe Kelly (R)
since January 5, 2023
John Arch (R)
since January 4, 2023
Executive Board Chair
Ray Aguilar (R)
since January 3, 2024
Executive Board Vice Chair
John Lowe (R)
since January 3, 2024
Structure
Seats49
Legislature political groups
Officially nonpartisan

Majority (33)

  •   Republican (33)[a]
    33 / 49 (67%)

Minority (16)

Length of term
4 years
AuthorityArticle III, Nebraska Constitution
Salary$12,000/year + per diem
Elections
Legislature voting system
Top-two primary
Last Legislature election
November 8, 2022
(24 seats)
Next Legislature election
November 5, 2024
(25 seats)
RedistrictingLegislature control
Meeting place
Nebraska State Capitol
Lincoln
Website
www.nebraskalegislature.gov

The Nebraska Legislature[1] (also called the Unicameral)[2] is the legislature of the U.S. state of Nebraska. The Legislature meets at the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln. With 49 members, known as "senators",[3] the Nebraska Legislature is the smallest U.S. state legislature. A total of 25 members is required for a majority; however, in order to overcome a filibuster, a two-thirds vote of all members is required, which takes 33 votes.[4]

Unlike the legislatures of the other 49 U.S. states and the U.S. Congress, the Nebraska Legislature is unicameral. It is also nonpartisan in that it does not officially recognize its members' political party affiliation or a formal partisan leadership structure. All 49 members elect, by secret ballot, the Legislature's officers (except the Lieutenant Governor, who serves as President of the Legislature) and committee chairs with the aim of ensuring lawmakers select leaders they truly support without undue pressure or influence from other branches of government, the political parties, or other sources of outside influence.

History

See also: List of Nebraska state senators

The First Nebraska Territorial Legislature met in Omaha in 1855, staying there until statehood was granted in 1867.[5] Nebraska originally operated under a bicameral legislature, but over time dissatisfaction with the bicameral system grew. Bills were lost because the two houses could not agree on a single version. Conference committees that formed to merge the two bills coming out of each chamber often met in secret, and thus were unaccountable for their actions. Campaigns to consolidate the Nebraska Legislature into a single chamber date back as early as 1913, meeting with mixed success.[6]

After a trip to Australia in 1931, George W. Norris, then U.S. senator for Nebraska, campaigned for reform, arguing that the bicameral system was based on the non-democratic British House of Lords, and that it was pointless to have two bodies of people doing the same thing and hence wasting money. He specifically pointed to the example of the Australian state of Queensland, which had adopted a unicameral parliament nearly ten years before. In 1934, voters approved a constitutional amendment to take effect with the 1936 elections, abolishing the Nebraska Senate and the Nebraska House of Representatives and granting their powers to a new unicameral body simply called the Nebraska Legislature. At 43 members, the new Nebraska Legislature was closer in size to the old 33-member Nebraska Senate than it was to the old 100-member Nebraska House of Representatives.[7][8]

Many possible reasons for the 1934 amendment's victory have been advanced: the popularity of George Norris; the Depression-era desire to cut costs; public dissatisfaction with the previous year's legislature; or even the fact that, by chance, it was on the ballot in the same year as an amendment to legalize parimutuel betting on horse races.[9] This final coincidence may have aided the measure's passage in Omaha, where the unicameral issue was not a pressing one but horse racing was. (Gambling interests campaigned for "yes" votes on all amendments in hopes of assuring the horse-racing amendment's passage.)

The new unicameral Legislature met for the first time in 1937. Though the name of the body is formally the "Nebraska Legislature", during the first session the Legislature adopted a resolution formally giving members the title of "senator". In Nebraska, the Legislature is also often known as "the Unicameral."[10]

General powers

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The Legislature is responsible for law-making and appropriating funds for the state. The governor has the power to veto any bill, but the Legislature may override the governor's veto by a vote of three-fifths (30) of its members. The Legislature also has the power, by a three-fifths vote, to propose a constitutional amendment to the voters, who then pass or reject it through a referendum.

Selection, composition and operation

The Legislature is composed of 49 members, chosen by a single-member district or constituency. Senators are chosen for four-year terms, with one-half of the seats up for election every second year. In effect, this results in half the chamber being elected at the same time as the President of the United States, and the other half elected at the same time as other statewide elections. Senators must be qualified voters who are at least 21 years old and have lived in the district they wish to represent for at least one year. A constitutional amendment passed in 2000 limits senators to two consecutive terms. However, a former senator is re-eligible for election after four years. Senators receive $12,000 a year + per diem.

Rather than separate primary elections held to choose Republican, Democratic, and other partisan contenders for a seat, Nebraska uses a single nonpartisan blanket primary, in which the top two vote-getters are entitled to run in the general election. There are no formal party alignments or groups within the Legislature. Coalitions tend to form issue by issue based on a member's philosophy of government, geographic background, and constituency. However, almost all the members of the legislature are known to be either Democrats or Republicans, and the state branches of both parties explicitly endorse candidates for legislative seats.[11]

Vacancies

Vacancies in the Legislature are appointed by the governor.[12]

Length of session

Sessions of the Nebraska Legislature last for 90 working days in odd-numbered years and 60 working days in even-numbered years.[13]

Special Sessions

Article IV-8 of the Nebraska State Constitution gives the Governor the power to call special sessions on "extraordinary occasions."[14] When called, lawmakers may only consider legislation outlined in the Governor's proclamation.

Membership

Current partisan composition
Affiliation Party
(Shading indicates majority caucus)
Total
Republican Ind Democratic Vacant
Start of 107th Legislature 32 0 17 49 0
April 27, 2022[15] 31 0 17 48 1
June 7, 2022[16] 32 0 17 48 0
July 11, 2022[17] 31 0 17 49 1
July 22, 2022[18] 32 0 17 49 0
November 9, 2022[19] 31 0 17 48 1
Start of 108th Legislature[20] 32 0 17 49 0
April 6, 2023[21] 31 0 17 48 1
April 11, 2023[22] 32 0 17 49 0
May 5, 2023[23] 32 1 16 49 0
October 31, 2023[24] 31 1 16 48 1
November 15, 2023[25] 32 1 16 49 0
April 3, 2024[26] 33 1 15 49 0
Latest voting share 67% 2% 31%

See also: List of Nebraska state senators

See also: Political party strength in Nebraska

The Nebraska Legislature officially recognizes no party affiliations; affiliations listed are based on state party endorsements. As of 2024, 33 members are Republicans, 15 are Democrats, and one is a registered nonpartisan.

District Senator Party affiliation Residence Took office
1 Julie Slama Republican Peru 2019[27]
2 Robert Clements Republican Elmwood 2017
3 Carol Blood Democratic Bellevue 2017
4 Brad von Gillern Republican Elkhorn 2023
5 Mike McDonnell Republican Omaha 2017
6 Machaela Cavanaugh Democratic Omaha 2019
7 Tony Vargas Democratic Omaha 2017
8 Megan Hunt Independent Democrat[23] Omaha 2019
9 John Cavanaugh Democratic Omaha 2021
10 Wendy DeBoer Democratic Bennington 2019
11 Terrell McKinney Democratic Omaha 2021
12 Merv Riepe Republican Ralston 2023[b]
13 Justin Wayne Democratic Omaha 2017
14 John Arch Republican LaVista 2019
15 Lynne Walz Democratic Fremont 2017
16 Ben Hansen Republican Blair 2019
17 Joni Albrecht Republican Thurston 2017
18 Christy Armendariz Republican Omaha 2023
19 Rob Dover Republican Norfolk 2022[18]
20 John Fredrickson Democratic Omaha 2023
21 Beau Ballard Republican Lincoln 2023[28]
22 Mike Moser Republican Columbus 2019
23 Bruce Bostelman Republican Brainard 2017
24 Jana Hughes Republican Seward 2023
25 Carolyn Bosn Republican Lincoln 2023[29]
26 George Dungan III Democratic Lincoln 2023
27 Anna Wishart Democratic Lincoln 2017
28 Jane Raybould Democratic Lincoln 2023
29 Eliot Bostar Democratic Lincoln 2021
30 Myron Dorn Republican Adams 2019
31 Kathleen Kauth Republican Omaha 2022[16]
32 Tom Brandt Republican Plymouth 2019
33 Steve Halloran Republican Hastings 2017
34 Loren Lippincott Republican Central City 2023
35 Ray Aguilar Republican Grand Island 2021[c]
36 Rick Holdcroft Republican Bellevue 2023
37 John Lowe Republican Kearney 2017
38 Dave Murman Republican Glenvil 2019
39 Lou Ann Linehan Republican Omaha 2017
40 Barry DeKay Republican Niobrara 2023
41 Fred Meyer Republican St. Paul 2023[25]
42 Mike Jacobson Republican North Platte 2022
43 Tom Brewer Republican Gordon 2017
44 Teresa Ibach Republican Sumner 2023
45 Rita Sanders Republican Bellevue 2021
46 Danielle Conrad Democratic Lincoln 2023[d]
47 Steve Erdman Republican Bayard 2017
48 Brian Hardin Republican Gering 2023
49 Jen Day Democratic Gretna 2021
  1. ^ a b c Nebraska Legislature elections are officially non-partisan; party affiliations are informational only.
  2. ^ Riepe previously served from 2015–2019.
  3. ^ Aguilar previously served from 1999–2009.
  4. ^ Conrad previously served from 2007–2015.

Leadership

Lieutenant governor

See also: Lieutenant Governor of Nebraska

The Lieutenant Governor is the President of the Legislature and the official presiding officer. When presiding, the Lieutenant Governor may vote to break a tie in the Legislature, but may not break a tie when the vote is on the final passage of a bill.

Speaker

See also: List of Speakers of the Nebraska Legislature

The highest position among the members is the Speaker, who presides over the Legislature in the absence of the Lieutenant Governor. The current Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature is John Arch. The Speaker is elected by floor ballot (or secret ballot) for a two-year term. The Speaker, with the approval of the executive board, determines the agenda (or the order in which bills and resolutions are considered). The Speaker is not a member of any committee, but is an ex-officio member of the Rules Committee and the executive board.

Executive Board

Administrative matters of the body are dealt with by the executive board. The Board includes the Speaker, a chairperson, a vice chairperson, and six other members. The chair and vice chair are chosen by floor ballot (or secret ballot) for two-year terms by the entire legislature. The chair of the Appropriations Committee serves, but cannot vote on any matter, and can only speak on fiscal matters.

The executive board is also the Referencing Committee. All bills introduced are referenced by the Referencing Committee to the committee whose subject relates to the bill. Any member of the Legislature may object to where a bill was referenced and attempt re-refer the bill to a different committee with a majority vote of the Legislature.

Caucuses

The Nebraska Legislature does not caucus based on political affiliation or use caucuses to organize support or opposition to legislation. Senators are classified into three geographically based caucuses based on the three congressional districts in the state. Each caucus elects two board members who serve on the executive board and four members who serve on the Committee-on-Committees.

Committees in the Legislature

Committee Chair Members Rank[a]
Standing Committees[31]
Agriculture Steve Halloran 8 Members 10
Appropriations Robert Clements 9 Members 5
Banking, Commerce and Insurance Julie Slama 8 Members 8
Business and Labor Merv Riepe 7 Members 14
Education Dave Murman 8 Members 7
General Affairs John Lowe 8 Members 12
Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Tom Brewer 8 Members 4
Health and Human Services Ben Hansen 7 Members 11
Judiciary Justin Wayne 8 Members 3
Natural Resources Bruce Bostelman 8 Members 9
Nebraska Retirement Systems Mike McDonnell 6 Members -
Revenue Lou Ann Linehan 8 Members 6
Transportation and Telecommunications Mike Moser 8 Members 15
Urban Affairs Terrell McKinney 7 Members 13
Select Committees[31]
Committee on Committees Joni Albrecht 13 Members 2
Enrollment and Review Beau Ballard 1 Member -
Reference (Executive Board of the Legislative Council) Ray Aguilar 9 Members 1
Rules Steve Erdman 6 Members -
Special Committees[31]
Executive Board of the Legislative Council (Reference) Ray Aguilar 9 Members 1
Building Maintenance Brad von Gillern 6 Members -
Justice Reinvestment Oversight Justin Wayne 5 Members -
Legislative Performance Audit Myron Dorn 7 Members -
Planning Wendy DeBoer 9 Members -
State-Tribal Relations Jen Day 7 Members -
Statewide Tourism and Recreation, Water Access,
and Resource Sustainability (STAR WARS)
John Arch 7 Members -
  1. ^ The rank is according to the order of precedence of committees as listed in Nebraska Revised Statute 84-120 in the case of a vacancy in the office of the Governor of Nebraska.[30]

Committee selection and election of chairs

At the beginning of each biennium, the Legislature elects a Committee on Committees of thirteen members, one at large who is elected by all members from the floor of the Legislature by floor ballot (or secret ballot). Four members are from Districts 2, 3, 15, 16, 19, 21–29, 45, and 46; four from Districts 4–14, 18, 20, 31, 36, 39 and 49; and four from Districts 1, 17, 30, 32–35, 37 and 38. Each caucus elects its own four members to serve on the Committee on Committees. The Committee on Committees creates a report of the membership of all committees for the Legislature. The Legislature may approve the report with a majority vote or reject it, but may not amend the report. If the report is rejected, the Committee on Committees must start over and create a new committee membership report until the Legislature can adopt one.[32]

Committee chairs are elected on the first day of the 90-day session and serve until the end of the 60-day session. Committee chairs are elected directly by the entire membership of the Legislature. On the first day, those wishing to run for a committee chair give a brief speech as to why they believe they're qualified, and following the speeches for that committee, members use a ballot vote to choose who they wish to serve as committee chair.

History of committee chair elections

The first Unicameral allowed each committee to select its own committee chair in 1937; from 1939 to 1971 the Committee on Committees designated the committee chair; and from 1973 to present committee chairs are chosen by ballot. The Speaker, Committee on Committees chair, and the chair and vice chair of the executive board have been chosen by floor ballot since the Unicameral's first day in 1937.[33]

Legislative Process

The Nebraska Unicameral Legislature operates as a single-house legislative system, distinct from the bicameral systems found in other U.S. states. Lawmaking in Nebraska is governed by a specific set of rules and procedures, as detailed in the official "Rules of the Nebraska Legislature" document. This section provides an overview of the legislative process in Nebraska, focusing on its various stages from bill introduction to enactment.

Bill Introduction and First Reading

In the Nebraska Legislature, any senator can introduce a bill during the first 10 legislative days of a session. Once introduced, the bill is assigned a number and read for the first time. This first reading is generally a formality and does not involve debate. After the first reading, the bill is referred to a committee by the Executive Board acting as the Reference Committee for further review and discussion. Senators may object to the referencing of a bill if they disagree with which committee it was sent to.

Committee Review and Public Hearing

After a bill is referred to a committee, the committee chair schedules it for a public hearing. Every bill introduced is guaranteed a public hearing, providing an opportunity for the public, experts, and stakeholders to offer testimony in support, opposition, or in a neutral capacity. At a time determined by the committee chair, the committee convenes in a private executive session—closed to the public but open to members of the media for transparency—to decide the bill's fate. The committee may choose to advance the bill to General File, either with or without amendments, hold it in committee, or indefinitely postpone it, effectively killing the bill. Additionally, the committee creates a committee statement that includes information about the bill and the individuals who testified during the public hearing.

General File

General File is the first time the full Legislature has the opportunity to debate and vote on bills. At this stage, senators consider amendments, which may be proposed by committees and by individual senators. Many people consider General File to be the most crucial stage of the legislative process because it is where most compromises are reached. It takes a majority vote of the Legislature (25 votes) to adopt amendments or move a bill from General File to the next stage of consideration.

Enrollment and Review

Commonly referred to as "E & R," enrollment and review is a process by which previously adopted amendments are incorporated into a bill, and the bill is checked for technical and grammatical accuracy. This is done following passage on General and Select File.

Select File

Select File is the second debating and voting stage. This step allows another opportunity for amendment, compromise and reflection. Bills on Select File may be indefinitely postponed or advanced to the next stage. After Select File, bills are sent to E & R again to be rechecked. Bills then are reprinted for Final Reading.

Final Reading and Governor's Approval

Once a bill passes both General and Select File, it advances to Final Reading. At this stage, no further amendments can be made, and the bill is read in full before a vote is taken. If it passes, the bill is sent to the Governor for approval. The Governor has five days (excluding Sundays) to either sign the bill into law, veto it, or allow it to become law without a signature. If vetoed, the Legislature can override the veto with a 3/5ths majority vote.

Emergency Clause and Time to Law

Some bills include an "emergency clause," which allows them to take effect immediately upon the Governor's signature. Otherwise, bills typically become law three calendar months after the Legislature adjourns.

People's Right to Referendum

Nebraska citizens have the right to challenge a bill through a referendum. To initiate this, a petition must be filed within 90 days of the Legislature's adjournment, and it must gather signatures from 5% of registered voters to suspend the law until a public vote. For the law to be repealed, signatures from 10% of registered voters are required. If the law is put on hold due to a successful petition, it will not go into effect until the outcome of the public vote.[34]

See also

References

  1. ^ "Legislative Branch". Nebraska.gov. Retrieved September 18, 2022.
  2. ^ LTC. "Nebraska Legislature - About the Legislature".
  3. ^ SRB, Hugo Frank (May 15, 1937). "RESOLUTION Authorizing and designating the title of the Legislature of Nebraska. Offered by P. L. Cady, W.F. Haycock and John Peterson" (PDF). Legislative Journal of the State of Nebraska: 70, 78 – via The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.
  4. ^ Metzler, Brandon (January 19, 2023), "Rule 7, Section 10", Rules of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature (PDF), p. 53, A two-thirds majority of the elected members shall be required for the cloture motion to be successful.
  5. ^ "More about Nebraska statehood, the location of the capital, and the story of the commissioner's homes"[usurped], Nebraska State Historical Society. Retrieved 12/14/08.
  6. ^ Michael S. Dulaney, J.D., Ph.D., Executive Director, Nebraska Council of School Administrators. "The Nebraska Legislature: A Brief History". Archived from the original on August 13, 2007. Retrieved September 7, 2008.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Williams, Beth (October 2013). Exploring Initiative and Referendum Law. Google Books: Routledge. p. 207. ISBN 9781317965268. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  8. ^ The Nebraska Blue Book 1936 (PDF), Nebraska Legislative Reference Bureau, December 1936, p. 164-166, retrieved December 26, 2022
  9. ^ Berens, Charlene (2004). Power to the People: Social Choice and the Populist/Progressive Ideal. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America. p. 252. ISBN 978-0-7618-2763-4.
  10. ^ Kelly, Michael (February 16, 2014). "Kelly: 'The Unicameral' — Nebraska-born, though not spread". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved May 19, 2018.
  11. ^ See, e.g., lists of endorsed candidates for the Legislature on the webpages of both the Nebraska Democratic Party Archived 2010-12-28 at the Wayback Machine and the Nebraska Republican Party Archived 2011-05-04 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ "Nebraska Legislature". nebraskalegislature.gov. Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  13. ^ "Nebraska Legislature". nebraskalegislature.gov. Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  14. ^ "Nebraska State Constitution Article IV-8". nebraskalegislature.gov/. Retrieved July 4, 2022.
  15. ^ Nebraskans pay tribute to State Sen. Rich Pahls
  16. ^ a b Don Walton (June 7, 2022). "Business owner chosen to fill legislative seat in Omaha". journalstar.com. Retrieved June 7, 2022.
  17. ^ Mike Flood is elected Congressman from 1st, He need to resign before July 12, 2022.
  18. ^ a b Don Walton (July 22, 2022). "Ricketts appoints Norfolk real estate agent to Flood's legislative seat". journalstar.com. Retrieved July 22, 2022.
  19. ^ Mike Hilgers is elected Nebraska Attorney General, He need to resign January 4, 2023.
  20. ^ Nolan Dorn (December 22, 2022), "Beau Ballard to fill vacant District 21 seat in Nebraska Legislature", KLKN
  21. ^ Aaron Sanderford (April 5, 2023). "State Sen. Suzanne Geist resigns from Nebraska Legislature to run full-time for Lincoln mayor". Nebraska Examiner. Retrieved April 5, 2023.
  22. ^ Appointee Carolyn Bosn is sworn in to replace former senator Suzanne Geist.
  23. ^ a b Chris Dunker (May 5, 2023). "Nebraska Sen. Megan Hunt ditches Democratic label, registers as nonpartisan". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved May 5, 2023.
  24. ^ "Briese resigns, governor seeks applicants". Nebraska Legislature. October 18, 2023. Retrieved November 1, 2023.
  25. ^ a b Little, Amber (November 15, 2023). "Nebraska governor appoints Saint Paul man to Dist. 41 seat". 1011 News. Retrieved November 15, 2023.
  26. ^ "Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell changes party registration to Republican". Lincoln Journal Star. April 3, 2024. Retrieved April 3, 2024.
  27. ^ "Gov. Ricketts Appoints Slama in LD1 | Office of Governor Pete Ricketts". governor.nebraska.gov. Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  28. ^ Don Walton (December 22, 2022), "Small business owner Beau Ballard appointed new Lincoln senator", Lincoln Journal Star
  29. ^ Chris Dunker (April 6, 2023). "Pillen names attorney, stay-at-home mom to Geist's Lincoln seat in Nebraska Legislature". Lincoln Journal Star.
  30. ^ "Nebraska Revised Statute 84-120". Nebraska Legislature. Retrieved November 20, 2022.
  31. ^ a b c "2022 Legislative Committees" (PDF). Nebraska Legislature. Retrieved November 20, 2022.
  32. ^ "The Rules of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature" (PDF). nebraskalegislature.gov/. January 9, 2023. Retrieved October 7, 2023.
  33. ^ The 1937 Nebraska Legislative Journal, Pg. 6 https://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/52/PDF/Journal/r1journal.pdf
  34. ^ "Lawmaking in Nebraska". nebraskalegislature.gov. Retrieved October 7, 2023.