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On Wednesday of this week we began the 107th Legislature by swearing in eight new senators. Only five of them are truly new, as we are welcoming back three veterans who have chosen to return for another term. As always, committee chair elections provide a little drama for the first day. Hopefully this year that will be kept to a minimum. There are a few contested races as I am writing this, but anyone can self-nominate from the floor to be chairman of any committee, so all races could be contested. I am hopeful that does not happen because I am currently running unopposed for Chairman of the Executive Committee. There are nine members on the Executive Committee, three positions are elected by the entire body of the Legislature: the Speaker, the Chairman and Vice Chairman. The remaining six members of the Executive Committee are elected from their respective caucuses. The three caucuses are roughly the same as our Congressional districts. This ensures that representation from across the state is on the Executive Committee.
Once the Chairs for all committees are elected, we begin the challenging task of committee assignments. Returning Senators are generally granted seniority when it comes to committee assignments. Seniors, like myself, with six years’ experience will be given priority for committee preferences. Juniors, those with four years’ experience, will follow. Then the Sophomores, with two years’ experience, and the Freshmen will be plugged in the remaining spots. This is another area where the caucuses come into play to ensure a fair representation from across the state on all committees. There can sometimes be trading of committee assignments. If the two senators wanting to trade assignments agree and the committee making committee assignments agrees, a switch can occur. This does not happen very often but occasionally takes place.
After the Chairs are elected, the office merry-go-round begins with moving offices inside the Capitol. Chairmanship offices are assigned, as Senators heading a committee have a larger staff to work with. If you are not a chair of a committee, then it comes down to seniority, again, as to where your office is going to be. Then add in that the Capitol is in the middle of a ten-year HVAC upgrade and you have many challenges. Before the HVAC project, all senators were placed on the first two floors of the building. But during each two-year phase of the construction, one-fourth of the building is being renovated and those offices are unavailable to anyone, so many senators will have offices in the tower. Any of you who have been to the capitol know how slow the elevators are, so you can imagine that the offices in the tower are not extremely popular.
It promises to be an eventful year in the Legislature. Stay tuned for more updates from me throughout the session. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can also click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch the session.