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Last week on Wednesday the 1st Session of the 105th Nebraska Legislature began. We will be meeting in the Legislative Chamber or in committee hearings for most of the day on most weekdays from now until early June. While we are in session, I intend to send these Unicameral Updates each week to give you an inside look at what is happening and to help you get involved on those issues that matter most to you and your family.
Day 1: Swearing In and Leadership Selection
The first day of each session begins with the newly elected Senators signing an Oath of Office with the Secretary of State. Three copies of this Oath are filed with the Secretary of State and the Senator keeps a copy. One important part of the Oath is a statement in which newly elected Senators affirm that they have not accepted or received “any money or other valuable thing from any corporation, company or person, or any promise of office, for any official act or influence.” I keep a copy of this Oath in my desk drawer on the Chamber floor. It not only reminds me daily of this important trust, but it also makes it easy to reference when necessary in a floor debate if it appears that what is happening on the floor starts to violate these principles.
For first-time Senators, this signing in ceremony provides an opportunity to get pictures with family and relish the honor of being elected to serve in the Unicameral.
For those of us returning, most sign the Oath at the back of the Chamber with little ceremony. The day begins with families on the floor for the first day ceremonies that include the formal swearing in by the Chief Justice. The newly elected and re-elected Senators all stand in the front, raise our right hands, and swear or affirm to the Oath of Office. I am glad that David and Philip were able to join me this year.
After these ceremonies, the families leave the floor, and attention turns to the selection of leadership for the session. Before that happens, rules have to be adopted for those votes; typically a motion is made to accept the rules from last year for just the one day. Those rules, which were adopted, include secret ballot voting for the Speaker and for chairs of committees.
As you have probably seen in the news, a conservative coalition dominated in the leadership races from top to bottom. Well, almost: the Chair of Enrollment & Review Committee is traditionally the youngest member of the body and that tradition did stand, as Senator Anna Wishart was elected to serve as the Chair of Enrollment & Review. This Chair introduces motions for amendments that make technical and grammatical corrections to bills. It is an important part of the bill process, but one that gets tedious and takes a lot of floor time for this member. Last session Senator Matt Hansen had the honor.
Other leadership selection traditions did not fare so well. In an unprecedented move, the conservative coalition encouraged three newly elected freshman Senators to announce their candidacy for committee chair positions on this first day and rallied the votes to elect them all to committee chairs. Freshman Senators in the past were discouraged from running for Committee Chair positions, and would not win if they did. Moreover, usually Senators announce their expectation to run for a Chair position with a letter to other Senators well before the first day so that Senators can talk to the candidates for the leadership positions. This provides an opportunity for the candidates for the Chair positions to find out about the concerns and issues of other Senators.
I was one of two sitting committee chairs running for re-election who was targeted by the coalition-sponsored freshman tactic, so I will no longer be serving as Chair of Urban Affairs and these Updates will no longer have an Urban Affairs Column. Senator Justin Wayne will serve as Chair of the Urban Affairs Committee. Thankfully, Senator Wayne, even as a freshman, was wise enough to realize the importance of hiring Trevor Fitzgerald to continue to serve as Committee Counsel, and I am grateful to Trevor that he is continuing to serve in that role for our state. This is also good news because it supports another important Unicameral tradition of maintaining Committee staff through Chair transitions. Particularly with term limits, maintaining expertise in the laws and agencies within a Committee’s jurisdiction through continuity of staff is critically important. Unfortunately, this tradition of maintaining committee staff through transitions of chairs has begun to erode in our more partisan environment.
Our greatest treasure trove of committee experience sits in the Banking Commerce and Insurance Committee office on the North side of the building. Bill Marienau and Janice Foster, pictured here with new Banking, Commerce & Insurance (BCI) Chair Senator Lindstrom, are two of the longest-serving staffers in the Capitol. Bill has served as legal counsel for BCI for 31 years and Jan has served as committee clerk for 29 years. They both have even more years of experience in the Unicameral. Senator Lindstrom has just been selected as chair of the committee, but he has 60 years of great experience and expertise behind him.
Day 2 & 3: Committee Assignments & Bill Introduction
On Day 2 the Committee on Committees finalized the committee assignments for members and on Day 3 the full legislature voted to approve those assignments. For the next two years I will stay on the same committees: Business & Labor, Urban Affairs, and Health and Human Services.
On Day 2 we also began bill introduction. Senators bring three paper copies of the bills that they wish to introduce and submit them the Clerk. Often Senators can be seen walking around asking other Senators for co-sponsorship signatures during this window. If you tuned in to our live webcast during the mornings of Day 2 and 3, turning in bills and talking to possible co-sponsors was the main floor action.
On Day 2, I introduced four Economic Development Bills. LB 96, my Site and Building Development Bill, will make loans, grants and other financial assistance offered by the Department of Economic Development available to public and private initiatives to improve the value of military installations across our state. My state highway relinquishment bill gives municipalities the ability to negotiate the terms with the state when acquiring a relinquished state highway for development purposes. The idea for this bill came from a conversation I had going door to door during the campaign. One of our former city councilmen talked about the challenges that Bellevue faced when trying to develop around Fort Crook Road because of restrictions that Bellevue still has to follow even though the Nebraska Department of Roads relinquished the road to the city. The third bill creates a Riverfront Development tool for municipalities and the fourth makes it easier for cities to get the information that they need from the Department of Revenue to administer their part of economic development incentives.
On Day 3 I introduced two bills relating to the safety and protection of children. The first bill, LB 108, provides protections for children whose parents have been arrested. The bill works to reduce the amount of trauma a child might experience during the arrest, ensure that whenever appropriate the child can be placed in the care of other family members, and establishes visitation guidelines that afford young children the bonding experiences they need for proper development during their parent’s incarceration. My other bill introduced on Day 3, LB 107, will close a gap in our state’s current sexual assault statute. This bill will ensure protections for children over the age of 15 who are assaulted by an adult age 19-25 who holds a position of special trust in the child’s life (such as a school employee or healthcare provider).
More Swearing In
On the afternoon of Day 2 the Legislature hosted the inauguration and swearing in of newly elected Regents, State Board of Education members, and the Supreme Court Justices. Senator Carol Blood and I enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate the beginning of Lisa Fricke’s term as a new member of the State Board of Education. She is a retired teacher with more than 30 years of public education experience, and I look forward to seeing how her leadership influences education policy in the state.
The first bill that I submitted this year was a resolution co-sponsored with Senator Blood to recognize the Bellevue West Football Team for their Championship Season. The resolution, known as LR 2,is available to read here. It will be formally approved by the full legislature next week. Congratulations Bellevue West!
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All the best,