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This column is the second in a two-part series to preview the upcoming session, which begins on January 6. Last week, we discussed the start-of-session schedule. This week, we’ll cover Nebraska’s unique process of how a bill becomes a law.
Ideas for legislation are sent from a senator to the bill drafting office before session begins. Bill drafters put the idea into a comprehensive bill that achieves the senator’s goal. Senators introduce bills during the first ten days of session. Each bill is then assigned to one of the standing committees for a public hearing.
These hearings begin in late January and continue through late March or early April. During this time, the Legislature convenes at 9:00 AM and adjourns around noon. Committee hearings start at 1:30 PM, sometimes extending until it’s almost midnight. Each bill introduced receives a hearing with public testimony. Anyone wishing to make themselves heard on issues can submit their public testimony online or can appear in-person to the hearing to testify. Public hearings are a great way to let your voice be heard, as it is your chance to have your opinion on bills and issues be entered into the public record for consideration by every state senator. After the hearing, the committee votes on whether or not to advance the bill to a floor debate.
Each bill that is passed through committee goes through three levels of debate in the full Legislature before it can be presented to the governor to sign or veto. These levels are called General File, Select File, and Final Reading. During floor debates, senators can propose different amendments and motions to modify the bill. At the start of session, these floor debates begin in the mornings, while committee hearings are held in the afternoon.
Full-day debate begins after committee hearings are finished. The Legislature normally convenes at 9 AM, and adjourns around 5 PM, though sometimes work is completed a little earlier or later. In the last few weeks of session, we also have late-night debates that can dismiss as early as 6:00 PM or as late as 11:59 PM.
When a bill passes through the three rounds of debate with a majority vote in the Legislature or receives 33 votes to break a filibuster, it is sent to the governor to sign into law or veto. If the governor vetoes a bill, the Legislature can override it with a vote of 30 senators.
As in previous years, NET will be streaming the session, along with committee hearings, live on TV and on their website. This is the most in-depth way for Nebraskans to watch coverage of the Capitol as it happens live. You can also follow along on the Nebraska Legislature’s website. The daily agenda is usually posted the night before and will highlight which bill is currently being discussed on the floor. I’d encourage everyone to stay up-to-date on the session, and to reach out to my office if you have any questions or would like to express your position on bills.
As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.