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John Arch

Sen. John Arch

Speaker of the Legislature

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Colleagues, the first session of this 108th Legislature is coming to an end and I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that it has certainly been an unusual and very difficult session for everyone. This session has tested the legislature on every level. Relationships, processes, rules, and our individual commitment to the goal of passing good legislation to govern our state. I stand here today to tell you and those listening, we have done the work we were sent to do in spite of all of the challenges before us.

The messaging I heard from the beginning of this session and throughout it was that the Legislature isn’t accomplishing anything. That perception could not be further from reality. The hard work and long hours on the part of all of you, the members of the Legislature and all of the legislative staff, has resulted in historic accomplishments. We have done what we were sent here to do and together we have passed transformative legislation in many areas that will positively impact generations to come. All of you, Senators and legislative staff, should feel a sense of satisfaction for the results produced by your very hard and determined work.

For example, we made major commitments to education with LB 583, introduced by Senator Sanders. With passage of Senator Linehan’s LB 754 and Senator Briese’s LB 243, we delivered significant tax relief to Nebraskans. We passed Senator Wishart’s LB 276, which will change the way we deliver behavioral health services across the state by adopting the Certified Community Behavioral Health model. We moved the Economic Recovery Act forward to effectuate real change in North and South Omaha with the passage of Senator McKinney’s LB 531. We were able to address justice reform with Senator Wayne’s bill, LB 50. We passed the implementation bill for the Voter ID ballot initiative. And of course, under the leadership of Senator Clements, we adopted a fiscally responsible budget that provides for the ongoing funding of our state government.

At the beginning of this session, I believe the largest question before us was how best to utilize the excess money in our General Fund and in our Cash Reserve Fund. This Legislature answered with a one billion dollar investment in education, significant tax relief, and transformative investment in communities throughout the state. Our decisions will have a lasting impact for many years to come.

While we weren’t able to have a consent calendar, we utilized a different strategy this year and that was the committee packages. My guidance to the chairs of each standing committee was to identify those bills that had committee member consensus, that had high impact, were non-controversial, and had a low fiscal note. Each committee presented its package to the legislature with those bills they believed fit that criteria. If you take a look at these committee packages and who sponsored the bills in those packages, you will not see any partisan trend, but you will see senators from all over our state putting forth good ideas–good governance bills. These packages all passed with broad support.

Thank you to all of the committees, their members and their staff. Thank you for working hard to bring forth legislative packages that were nonpartisan, that were well-worked and broadly supported. Thank you for the personal sacrifices you made to be present and engaged for long hours.

In all, out of the over 800 different measures introduced at the beginning of the session, when you consider both individual bills and bills amended into the packages, we have passed a total of 291 bills. This is essentially the same number of bills passed compared to the average long session. In 2019, 322 bills were passed and in 2021, 281 bills were passed. This session’s number includes 72 out of the 107 personal, committee and Speaker priority bills. That’s nearly two-thirds of priority bills passed. And this session’s bills were passed with significant consensus and bipartisan support. Only seven bills passed with fewer than 40 votes. In fact, a majority of the bills we passed had the support of no less than 44 supporters and several with many more. With all of the bills passed, including several large, transformative bills, I believe that this was one of the most productive sessions and will have a longer lasting impact than any session in modern history. That is a tribute to you–your hard work and your long hours.

A majority of the session was embroiled in extreme rancor and division, but if you look at what we have accomplished, particularly during these last few days of the session, you can get a glimpse of what we can do when we work together. I hope we can build on that, on the robust debate we’ve had these last few days, as we consider the direction we take next session in January 2024.

With regards to that division – I want you to know that my commitment to the institution guided my decision making throughout this session. I know there were some of you, from across the political spectrum, who did not always agree with my decisions. As speaker, I worked diligently this session to provide guidance and to influence the culture of our nonpartisan institution. I personally made every attempt to not give in to the temptation to make major changes as a result of the challenges. I was asked (at times begged) on numerous occasions to change the rules in the middle of the session or to find a new interpretation of existing rules, with the rationale “because we can.” Except for one rule change which did aid us to address substantive issues, I consistently said no, much to the frustration of many. I did not want to make changes to precedent, adopt a new interpretation of rules, nor suppress dissent by the use of my powers. I did not accept that as a strategy, because I hoped that this year would be an aberration, not a predictor of the future. There will be time to consider how we want to govern ourselves in the future, but I believed then and continue to believe it should not occur in the middle of the session in the midst of turmoil. That is not the time for good decision-making. As speaker, I attempted to hold to the course, and I think that was largely accomplished.

But the speaker alone does not comprise the Nebraska Legislature – clearly it will be up to all the members of the Legislature to determine what kind of Legislature we want going forward. A Unicameral Legislature that is focused on approaching governance with a solution-focused, problem-solving mindset will only happen if you want that. We are 49 out of two million residents of Nebraska who have been elected to represent their interests. It is a privilege, but also a huge responsibility. My commitment to this institution and to the members of this body will be to work with you over the interim to assess the lessons – both good and bad – of this session, learn from them, and move forward as we define not only what we do, but how we do it.

Sen. John Arch

Speaker of the Legislature
Room 2103
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2730
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