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The 2017 Nebraska Legislature opened on January 4. We are seeing the full impact of term limits in the Unicameral. Seventeen new Senators were sworn in, joining the eighteen of us who entered two years ago. Of the 49 Senators, only 14 have four or more years of experience in the Legislature.
Nebraska’s single-house nonpartisan Legislature is unique among the states. George W. Norris successfully led the campaign in 1934 leading to Nebraska voters approving the Unicameral. The nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature has served our state well for 80 years. This year, a crack has appeared in George Norris’ legacy. It appears that twenty seven “like-minded” Senators held private meetings prior to the session for the purpose of creating a bloc of votes. I am told that the bloc coordinated voting instructions for the new Senators who were part of the group, with a predetermined slate for each leadership position. Several of my fellow Republican Senators and I were not part of the voting bloc.
George Norris advocated nonpartisanship, believing that such a body would allow Senators to concentrate on State interests without being duly influenced by party lines. Nonpartisanship would allow Nebraska Senators to base their actions on the needs of the districts they represent and their own convictions, rather than on party platforms. Norris believed bicameralism in state government led to election of legislators on a partisan basis, and facilitated manipulation by lobbyists.
Our congress in Washington D.C. seems to function not as citizen representatives together solving the country’s problems, but as an ongoing battle between the political parties. It is my fond hope that the Nebraska Legislature will not fall into the same pattern.
The 2017 Legislative session has already been marked by the organized takeover of leadership positions. The session will be further defined by the need to overcome a projected $900 million revenue shortfall. There have already been a variety of proposals introduced as bills to address tax relief. Some target property taxes, and some are seeking reductions in income taxes. The voting bloc may unravel on those tax-related issues, as urban interests often differ from rural interests.
The first 10 days of the session are for the most part dedicated to the introduction of bills, with hearings generally beginning on the 11th day. This year, I am serving on the Judiciary Committee and the Banking, Commerce, and Insurance Committee. The B, C, and I Committee hearings will be on Monday and Tuesday afternoons, and the Judiciary Committee hearings on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons. I will be paying particular attention to the bills referenced to my committees, and to Education Committee bills.
Please contact me at with your concerns at 402-471-2620 or firstname.lastname@example.org.