Greetings from Lincoln! This week I’d like to talk about our process here in the Nebraska Legislature. Often when I am visiting with people, they ask me questions about how things work in the Legislature.
First, our Sessions actually cover two years, a biennium. The first year, the long session, is sixty days. The shorter session is thirty days. These are days which the Legislative body convenes in the Legislative Chamber. There are also “recess” days in which the body does not conduct committee hearings or debate legislation. These are often later in the session and are nearly always Fridays and Mondays. These days are important because they allow time for us to be back in our districts, meeting with constituents, conducting town hall meetings, and taking care of our jobs outside the Legislature. We are not technically full-time Legislators and most of the Senators do have other careers.
The Legislative Session begins on the first Wednesday after the first Monday each year. The first day of Session is procedural. There is a swearing in of any newly elected or appointed Senators, and there are speeches from the Governor and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. On the long session years, the first year of each biennium, we also hold elections for Committee Chairs. After the Chairs are elected, each Senator is referred to standing committees so that they are meeting each day. Appropriations meets every day so senators on that committee are only on that committee. All other committees meet either one, two, or three days each week. There are also special and select committees which do not have set meeting schedules. Appointments to those committees are made by the Executive Board.
Bill introduction begins and continues for the first ten Session days. Generally there are between six hundred and eight hundred bills introduced each year. Each of these bills is referred to a committee who then schedules and holds a public hearing on each bill. After the bill hearing, the committee has three options: They can do nothing on the bill, holding it in committee; they can indefinitely postpone, or kill, the bill; or they can advance the bill to be debated by the entire Legislature.
There are three rounds of debate that each bill can go through; General File, Select File, and Final Reading. At each stage the bill can be amended and advanced or indefinitely postponed. It requires 25 votes, a majority of Senators, to advance the bill, and If the bill is advanced from General File, it goes through the enrollment and review process – the bill goes through our bill drafting office for amendments to be incorporated and to be edited. The bill is then debated on Select File where again it can be amended and advanced or indefinitely postponed. If advanced, it goes back through the enrollment and review process again. Then the bill is placed on Final Reading. On Final Reading, if a senator wishes to amend the bill, then there has to be a vote to return the bill to Select File for purposes of amending the bill. If there are no amendments, then a vote is taken on whether the bill will pass or fail.
If passed, the bill then goes to the Governor who may either sign the bill (and then it’s a law!), decline to sign the bill (which also becomes law), or veto the bill. If the Governor vetoes the bill, the Legislature can either take no action – and the bill does not become law – or they can vote on whether or not to override the Governor’s veto. An override requires a supermajority (30 votes).
Laws take effect three months after the end of the Legislative Session, or upon a date specified in the bill, unless they are passed with an emergency clause in which case they take effect immediately, or upon any effective date specified in the bill. A bill must receive 33 votes in order to pass with the emergency clause.