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The third week of the 104th Legislature, 2nd Session continued with committee hearings for the hundreds of bills introduced this year by the Unicameral. Of the 11 bills I introduced this year, six of them have already been heard in committee, three in both of the last two weeks. Here is a summary of those bills:
If you are interested in the process and status of any of the legislative bills, I encourage you to go to www.nebraskalegislature.gov to find more information.
This past week, I received some questions about the filibuster process and its purpose, so this is a good opportunity to explain what filibustering is and what it does. The term “filibuster” is related to the term “freebooter,” which refers to pirates of the 16th and 17th centuries. Filibuster, as it is used in the legislative sense, is likely an extension of freebooter because legislators would “pirate” debate by hijacking the regular order of procedure.
In today’s lawmaking process legislative bodies have specific rules for dealing with filibusters, perhaps because it has become such a common occurrence in the course of legislative debate. In Nebraska, the process is regulated by Rule 7, Sec. 10 of the Rules of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature, a section simply called “Cloture.” The term “cloture” is interchangeable with “closure.” This rule describes the process of closing, or ending, debate on a bill.
Every bill that has reached the floor of the Legislature (at least to General File) and has been scheduled for debate is guaranteed a “full and fair debate” according to Rule 7. In the past, the Rules specified an objective standard for the meaning of “full and fair debate.” Today, the Rules call for a more subjective standard: “the presiding officer’s opinion,” but Speaker Galen Hadley communicated to the Legislature that his opinion of what constitutes a full and fair debate would be based on very objective criteria. For a bill on General File, it must be debated for a full six hours. This time was traditionally eight hours, but Speaker Hadley reduced the time in order to allow more time for a greater number of bills. The time limits on Select File and Final Reading are four hours and two hours, respectively.
Without the Rule on cloture, the Legislature could potentially spend the entire session on one bill. This is obviously not a good use of time and taxpayer funds. The purpose for filibustering a bill, on the other hand, is to delay the amount of time a particular bill has to go through the bill-making process. Essentially, if cloture is not invoked, the bill stalls. In order to invoke cloture, a minimum of two-thirds of the elected senators (33 of 49) must vote to end debate. Once debate is ended, a vote must be taken on the merits of the bill. Essentially, this means that a vote for cloture is a vote for the bill because only one-half (25 of 49) senators are required to pass a bill on to the next stages of debate. In the event of a veto from the Governor, only 30 votes are necessary to override that veto. Assuming that the 33 senators who vote to end debate on the bill support its merits, the bill will easily pass through the remaining stages of bill enactment.
We have already seen filibustering on a few matters before the Unicameral. Legislative Bills 176 and 289 both received lengthy debate but had different outcomes. LB176, which allows meat packers to have a degree of ownership of the hogs they prepare for slaughter, was recently placed on final reading after a successful cloture motion. LB289, which makes gun possession laws in Nebraska uniform, failed to proceed because its cloture vote failed by one vote.
There will likely be further filibustering in the near future. Although I believe it is not a controversial bill, I expect LB975, the Child Welfare Services Preservation Act, will be subject to a filibuster. My hope is that the reasonable and honorable senators of our great state will come to understand that my intent with this bill is not to discriminate in any way but to allow private child-placing agencies to operate according to their deeply held beliefs.
As always, if we can be of assistance to you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact my office. My door is open and I have made it a goal to be accessible to the constituents of our district. With the Retirement Chairmanship election, we have moved offices and are now in Room 2004B. Stop by any time. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and the office phone number, which has stayed the same, is 402-471-2756. Joe and Katie are always available to assist you with your needs. If I am not immediately available, please do not hesitate to work with them to address your concerns, thoughts, and needs. Please continue to follow me on Facebook at Kolterman For Legislature and on Twitter at @KoltermanforLegislature.