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Only a fraction of the 667 bills introduced during the first ten days of this legislative session will be passed into law. The limited time of the legislative session, 90 legislative days in odd numbered years and 60 legislative days in even years, requires prioritization of bills. This compels senators to focus attention and energy on issues of greatest significance to the state.
The core principle of the Nebraska Unicameral system is that it is open and accessible to all Nebraskans. Often there is a “rest of the story” associated with a particular bill. By understanding the context around introduction and the process, citizens are able to better evaluate bills.
Bills are introduced for a variety of reasons. “Cleanup bills” organize sections of statute that have been amended several times, harmonize terms used in different statutes to refer to the same things, or otherwise edit statutes to make them consistent without making significant policy changes. Although not an official designation, these are routine bills often introduced by standing committees or committee chairs to address sections of law under their jurisdiction.
Rules exist that limit a bill to a specific topic and region of statute. It has become practice in some committees that a bill which addresses a number of different issues within a broad section of statute, unofficially referred to as an “omnibus bill”, can receive a committee priority and be advanced. It is also not uncommon for several bills or parts of several bills addressing similar topics to be combined by a committee following public hearings into a single committee amendment and advanced as an “omnibus bill” for floor debate.
Toward the end of a legislative session, bills that are unlikely to be heard because of time constraints may be amended into bills that are already being debated on the floor, not unlike ornaments hung on a Christmas tree. In order to be attached to the bill, the issue must be germane, or relevant to the topic and area of statute of the original bill. The “germaneness” of any amendment can be challenged and voted on by the Legislature as a whole. These so-called “Christmas tree bills” can be quite controversial. Attaching an unpopular bill to a bill that has successfully advanced on the floor can kill the entire bill.
Not all bills are expected to be advanced to the floor or passed into law. Because every bill receives a public hearing, introducing a bill on a specific topic can be an excellent way to raise public awareness about an issue, identify stakeholders who may support or oppose an issue, or set a process in motion that will lead to future legislation. Most major concepts or new ideas develop over several years.
To illustrate, last year I introduced a bill to address privacy concerns with images captured by drones. It was the first step in what will be a multi-year process as federal regulation of drones by the FAA develops, as does the technology. This year I re-introduced a bill from last year to prevent the revolving door of elected officials and capitol staff moving from taxpayer funded positions directly into lobbying, and various senators have attempted to address this issue over the years. As new senators and staff enter the Legislature, it is important to me that this important ethical issue remains at the forefront of discussion.