Newsletter, February 13, 2015
Merriam-Webster defines a filibuster as an effort to prevent action in a legislature by making a long speech or series of speeches.
Many of you may be familiar with Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of a filibuster as the character Senator Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra’s film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Using the filibuster to delay or block legislative action has a long history. The term filibuster became popular in the 1850s, when it was applied to efforts to hold the U.S. Senate floor in order to prevent a vote on a bill.
What was once a rare event is becoming more routine in the Nebraska Legislature. The filibuster is being employed often these days by different senators in our 49-member body.
Essentially, a filibuster is a long series of motions and amendments used to hold up or prevent a vote on a bill. Although often seen as a tool of the minority, the filibuster can be employed by any senator if they have the intestinal fortitude to conduct a disciplined and sustained debate on any issue.
Senators don’t have to address the specific issue during their filibuster, although most do. They can speak on whatever they like to fill their allotted time. Sometimes, just the threat of a filibuster can be enough for a compromise to be reached.
A cloture motion is the procedure used to break a filibuster by ending debate and causing a vote on the bill. In most states, filibusters can be cut off with a simple majority of votes. When the Nebraska Legislature adopted a cloture rule in 1992, our rule said that cloture motions had to be approved by a two-thirds majority (33 votes), so long as the speaker decides the bill has received a “full and fair debate.”
The rule no longer says that a bill must have eight hours of debate before lawmakers can vote on cloture. However, the tradition of eight hours on general file and four hours on select file is a tradition that most Speakers honor.
We’ve already experienced two filibusters this session, but neither went to a cloture vote. With LB 88, which would have increased the marriage license fee from $15 to $50, the filibuster resulted in a compromise which limited the increase to $25. The filibuster on LB 18, which required vaccination of children against meningitis, forced the bill’s sponsor to bracket it until June.
As we proceed into the more weighty issues later in the session, I predict additional filibusters will have tempers flaring as time becomes more valuable.
If you have questions regarding this newsletter, legislation or state issues, please call my legislative office at (402) 471-2631. I have Voicemail, so if you get the recording, please leave a short message. You may also write to me c/o P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or email me at: email@example.com. If you write or email, please include your full name and mailing address.