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The Nebraska Constitution is very clear about when the Legislature is to meet, and for how long. Article III, Section 10 states that the Legislature is to commence its business for each year at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January. During even-numbered years, the Legislature has a maximum of sixty days to get our work done. During odd-numbered years, the Constitution allows us a maximum of ninety days, with the extra thirty days intended to give us the time we need to formulate our biennial budget.
Once a decade, part of our regular work is to redraw electoral boundaries based on the population statistics assembled in the most recent federal census. This year, for the first time in American history, the census results were late. Our ninety-day session would have afforded us plenty of time to complete redistricting if the numbers had been delivered on time, by April 1st. Unfortunately, states did not receive the 2020 census results until mid-August.
Besides setting the time and maximum length of regular legislative sessions, our state constitution also provides in Article IV, Section 8 that the governor may call a special session of the Legislature in “extraordinary circumstances.” I think it is fair to say that the unprecedented delay in receiving the census data is an extraordinary circumstance. Special sessions are not included in the constitution as a way for the Legislature to get more time to do its regular work. This constitutional provision strictly forbids the Legislature from taking up any business other than what the special session is called to conduct. This means that all bills in a special session are related to that same topic.
Special sessions still have bill introduction, referencing, hearings, and floor debate like regular session of the Legislature. However, these procedures occur on a much tighter timeline. Speaker Hilgers has informed us that the Legislature will be called into a special session on September 13th at 10 a.m. He has urged the body to be prepared to work quickly so that our job will be complete no later than September 24th. That is a quick turnaround, but it is necessary in order to give local elections officials and political subdivisions adequate time to redraw precinct lines and other local boundaries before candidates must file for office for the primary elections in the spring.
Redistricting is a big job, and it is one of the most important things that we do as senators. Whatever lines we draw, Nebraskans are going to have to live with them for the next ten years. As a member of the Redistricting Committee, I take that heavy responsibility seriously.