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Bureaucracy. Paperwork. Hearings. Amendments. Debate. For most Nebraskans, these words do not stir up warm feelings. I think for most of us, those words make us want to tuck tail and head in the other direction. The Nebraskans that I know like to get the job done, not just hold meetings to talk about getting it done.
The layers upon layers of procedure and formality that we have to navigate in the Nebraska Legislature are part of what make the lawmaking process seem so challenging to Nebraska citizens. That process can be very frustrating.
As someone who is danger-close when the sausage is being made, I can tell you that it is not just frustrating for the public. It is frustrating for senators, too. But the good people of Nebraska sent us to Lincoln with a job to do, and sometimes to do an important job you just have to gut out the hard stuff. The good news is that the painstaking process of passing a new law can work in our favor, too.
We all learn in school about government checks and balances. Government is dangerous, and it is more dangerous when there are no brakes on it. Our system of government moves slowly, and that is by design. Committee hearings are designed to get lawmakers coached up on a subject by people who have information to share. The three rounds of floor debate in the Unicameral guarantee that those with concerns at least have a chance to get those concerns worked out. Filibusters mean that a big enough minority can permanently stop a bill if they are willing to work hard enough.
In Nebraska, our predecessors made the decision to move to a Unicameral Legislature. The blessing and the curse of the Unicameral is that the legislative process became a lot less complicated and more transparent than it was before. Most states have two legislative bodies working in parallel and then working out technical differences through conference committees. The Unicameral structure sometimes allows one charismatic senator to shepherd a bill through the Legislature so quickly that even my fellow senators scarcely know what was just sent to the governor’s desk.
Believe me, I often wish that I could just ramrod a good bill through the Legislature. It can be frustrating to work for months or years on an idea and then see it get bogged down in the mire. I always have to remind myself that the brakes on the machine have to be there to slow down the bad ideas.
As time-consuming as it may be, that is why we need Nebraskans to put their shoulder behind good ideas when they come up. In January, we will have at least sixteen new senators in the body. Most of them have never worked in or around the Legislature before. Nebraskans cannot be shy in telling these new senators, and the rest of us, what Nebraska’s priorities need to be.