Most of us think of early July in the context of Independence Day celebrations, summer baseball, and long hours irrigating. July 1 is a significant date in state government, marking the beginning of the new fiscal year for the state of Nebraska. Running from July 1 to June 30, the new fiscal year operates using the biennial budget adopted in the past legislative session. Although the start of the fiscal year means implementation of the new budget, most of the statutory changes passed by the Legislature during the 2017 session will not become effective law for another 30 days or more.
The lawmaking process in Nebraska has a number of important delays built into the system. For example, there must be five legislative days between the introduction of a bill and a vote on Final Reading, the third and last stage of debate. Moreover, a bill must layover a full legislative day after being advanced to Final Reading before the vote can be taken. These delays provide a minimum time for the public to access, read, and provide input on legislation before it can be passed by the Legislature.
Once a bill has been passed by a majority of the senators and signed by the Governor, it does not become effective law until three calendar months from the date it is signed. This 90 day delay has several practical implications. First and foremost, the 90 day time period is critical to the referendum process in Nebraska. Voters of Nebraska have the ability to overturn any law passed by state government via public vote. If 5% of registered voters sign a petition within the 90 days following passage of a bill, the bill will be considered by all voters on the next General Election ballot. Since General Elections are only held in November of even numbered years, the law may take effect before the people vote. However, if 10% of registered voters sign the petition, the bill is barred from becoming law until after the public vote. A simple majority of General Election voters then determines whether the law is repealed or allowed to remain.
In addition, the three month delay allows adequate time for those impacted by the new law to understand how to fully comply with the statutory changes. State agencies with the responsibility to implement or modify programs as a result of the bill may need to promulgate and adopt new rules and regulations or issue Request for Proposals for contracted services. The regulation process also has specified time periods for public input, and the RFP process is intended to provide open, fair access to all willing bidders.
In some cases, bills passed need to take effect sooner than 90 days after passage. To eliminate that delay, bills must include in their language an “emergency clause”. A bill with the emergency clause will generally have the phrase “to establish an emergency” in the bill description on the first page of the introduced copy, and will contain the phrase “since an emergency exists, this act takes effect when passed and approved according to law” in the text of the bill. Bills with an emergency clause will also be identified with the letter “e” following the bill number of the Final Reading agenda. A two-thirds majority of 33 votes is required on Final Reading to pass a bill with the emergency clause, as opposed to a simple majority of 25.
Passing a bill with the emergency clause does not mean “emergency” in the common useage of the term. While it may, as in the case of a special session or a deficit appropriation, it generally is included when it is most practical to have a new law take effect at the start of a new fiscal year on July 1, not later in August or September. The merger of the Department of Roads and Department of Aeronautics into the Department of Transportation is an example of a change that was most efficient at the start of the new fiscal year, but not what one might call an “emergency”. LB223, a bill of mine this past session, passed with the emergency clause to authorize prescriber’s designees to input data into the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program as soon as the bill was signed into law, making the PDMP system more efficient for prescribers.
While government is frequently criticized for its inefficiencies, delays such as these are essential to provide adequate access of the public to the lawmaking process. If you followed a particular bill that was passed into law this past session, you may still be able to influence its implementation. The more comprehensive the public input in the process, the more effective the law will ultimately be.