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There were 667 individual bills introduced in the first ten days of the legislative session. After being officially recorded by the Clerk of the Legislature and entered into the record, the Referencing Committee assigns each bill to one of the 14 standing committees. The legislative process in Nebraska will then begin with the public hearing required of every bill by the committee to which it was referred.
Some bills are very basic, making only language changes or modernizing terminology. Others are simply appropriations bills, which allocate a certain dollar amount to a specific program in the state budget. On the opposite end of the spectrum are large, comprehensive bills that address many areas of statute and make broad changes to existing state law. Some of these bills can be 25 or more pages in length.
Each of these bills will receive a hearing that is open to the public to provide testimony and insight. The committee process is also the first opportunity for members of the committee to which the bills was referred to provide input to the bill language. Legal counsel for the committee also has expertise in areas of statute typically addressed by the committee, often recommending language changes to harmonize the bill with existing statutes. In order for a bill to move on to General File, the first of three rounds of voting and debate by the entire Legislature, it must first successfully pass out of committee. Committee amendments to the original introduced language are made more often than not.
Very few, if any, of the bills passed by the Nebraska Legislature are exactly the same as introduced. In many cases, most of them will be substantially changed as the bill makes it through the process and input from the public and other senators refines the language and compromises are reached. Moreover, of the over 600 bills introduced, it is likely only around 100 will actually be debated on General File by the entire Legislature. Every senator can designate one bill as a Priority Bill, while each committee chair can designate two. The Speaker can assign a priority to up to 25 bills. Due to constitutional limitations on the length of a legislative session, bills without a priority designation are much less likely to make it on the schedule for floor debate.
It has been great to hear from many constituents over the past few weeks about specific bills. Our system works best when citizens engage and make their voices heard. However, I have also received calls and emails from voters who have been mislead about what a bill actually says or the intent of a specific bill. I have noticed that a false or misleading post on social media making allegations about a bill can spread very quickly. Special interest groups who oppose a specific bill are paid to create opposition, and will often oversimplify or present extreme consequences to spin up the public.
Bills are introduced for a variety of reasons. Some are introduced simply to foster discussion or to get a first pass at the public opinion on an issue. Because bills can only be introduced during the first 10 days of the legislative session, others are placeholders that impact a particular area of statute and provide options for senators to address issues that develop. Still others are shell bills, such as the budget bills, which will be completely replaced with new language when the budget has been developed or specific costs are known. Don’t assume that a bill as introduced is ever even intended to be passed into law as introduced.
A well informed public is essential to a functional democracy. While social media can be a great tool to disseminate information, all of the bills are longer than the 140 characters of a tweet. Social media or blog posts cannot adequately explain all aspects bill, often leaving out critical details. While I disagree at times with legislation introduced by fellow senators, no senator seriously introduces a bill with malevolent intent or desire to destroy an industry, kill people’s dreams, or start a war with any group. Each bill introduced, in its own way, represents an idea a senator has to improve life in Nebraska. While it may be an approach some disagree with or have consequences not fully realized at the time of introduction, it does not mean the senator had bad intentions.
To truly understand an issue, read the bill. The full text and any amendments of every bill introduced is available at www.nebraskalegislature.gov . You can also track where the bill is in the process, find hearing dates, read the introducing senator’s statement of intent, see the fiscal costs, and read committee statements as well. I encourage everyone to utilize these resources. My office is also happy to help voters get the correct information they need to make decisions about bills before the Nebraska Legislature.