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Public hearings are an important part of the legislative process. In Nebraska, every bill that is introduced must have a public hearing. The hearings allow every citizen the opportunity to provide their insight and expertise to legislators, as well as give voters the chance to voice their opinion on legislation directly to senators. However, bill hearings held during the legislative session are not the only public hearings conducted by the Legislature. Although the Legislature is not currently in session, hearings on Interim Study Resolutions are currently underway. You can find the list of the public hearings, including their topic, date, and time on the Nebraska Legislature website.
Interim Study Proposals are introduced by senators or standing committees during the legislative session. Designated with the “LR” prefix, each study is referred to one of the standing committees using the same criteria when referencing legislation. Following adjournment of the legislative session, legislative staff and committees begin working on the various study topics introduced. Committee Chairs prioritize the resolutions assigned to their committee and determine whether a public hearing will be held. This year 109 different studies were introduced. A full list of the interim study resolutions and their full text is available on the homepage of the Nebraska Legislature’s website.
Interim studies vary significantly in their depth and purpose. Studies introduced this year include examination of specific statutes or programs, such as the Property and Casualty Insurance Rate and Form Act and the One-Call Notification System Act. Others are more general in nature, like the availability of the affordable housing or the school finance structures. Interim studies tend to be political, rather than objective, in nature. They should not be confused with a Performance Audit, which is an objective study of a legislative program with defined standards for analysis conducted by trained professional auditors. Legislative staff, which may or may not have expertise in the specific topic being addressed, are typically responsible for the research and production of the interim study report.
Public hearings are not required and are at the discretion of the chair. Whether or not the hearing will be open for public testimony is also at the discretion of the Committee Chair. Frequently, hearings are conducted with invited testimony presented by special interest groups with a specific interest in the study topic. The purpose of a study is as variable as their specificity. Interim studies can be used to research future legislation, providing an opportunity to identify stakeholders that may engage on an issue. They may also examine a concept that failed to advance in a prior session, helping to refine and improve legislation for future years.
While Legislative Resolutions and their associated interim studies do not result in a change in policy or law, they are worthy of public attention. Interim studies are frequently cited in bill hearings and during floor debate of bills. The scope and topic of studies provide insight into the interests of individual senators, as well as the priorities of Committee Chairs. Most important, interim study topics frequently appear as bills in subsequent sessions.
If you have an interest in any interim study topic and would like to submit comments or participate in the hearing, please contact my office for assistance. Citizen engagement in all of the public hearings is important.