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Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to you as we wrap up this very difficult and strange year. Hopefully the year ahead is a better one. The new year and another session of the Unicameral Legislature will be upon us soon. Just as many of our holiday celebrations will look different this year, this upcoming session will look different from past sessions.
The first day of the 107th Legislature will convene on January 6th, as required by the state’s constitution. The newly elected senators will be sworn in and the body will select a new Speaker of the Legislature. The members will then move to elect committee chairman. There are 14 Standing committees. Some of those chairmanship positions are contested races. All senators have been encouraged to limit the number of bills they introduce due to health concerns related to the pandemic. The rules of our Unicameral Legislature dictate that every bill introduced receives a public hearing. Public hearings are necessary to the success of each bill, but it presents challenges as far as maintaining social distancing procedures and the public’s health. This session, most of the hearing rooms will have a capacity of only 27 people in the audience at a time. The hearing rooms have been modified to allow for some social distancing, both for the testifiers and senators. As a part of new cleaning procedures put in place this session, the pages will be disinfecting the testifier chair and table between each testifier.
We know that nothing is 100% fail proof but there is a responsibility to our staff and those who enter the capitol to help minimize the spread of Covid while remaining open to all Nebraskans. This summer when the Nebraska Legislature finished the 106th Legislative session, some of the operating procedures were changed to provide safeguards against the spread of Covid. We were able to learn a lot from that summer session but more modifications are being made for this upcoming session. The Lincoln/Lancaster County Public Health Department continues to consult with us on our procedures in the hearing rooms and the chamber to be as safe as possible.
The Norris Legislative Chamber is where the Legislature convenes to have floor debate and vote. In the past, the public was allowed to view the legislature in progress by watching from the North balcony, but unfortunately due to covid restrictions that balcony will be closed to the general public. The legislature and the hearings will continue to be live streamed so that everyone can still watch what is happening live. Senators will be able to use the East balcony if they have had possible exposure to covid and they will be allowed to participate in debate. The South balcony will be available for any member of the legislature who would like to watch the session but allow for more social distancing than is available on the floor of the chamber.
I wish everyone a joyous holiday season and a restored hope in the new year to come.