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Covid-19 Hearing Procedures and Public Input Options
To help ensure that the committee hearings are safe, that the members of the public have opportunities to have their voices heard, and that we are appropriately responding to the challenges caused by COVID-19, the Legislature has modified its traditional hearing process. These modifications are intended to create a consistent committee hearing process and to expand the options for public input for those members of the public who are concerned about testifying in-person in a hearing room at the Capitol.
First, and in consultation with the standing committee chairs, health officials, and the Clerk’s office, I have finalized the Covid-19 Hearing Procedures which will be followed by all committees. The procedures include: limiting hearing room capacity to accommodate social distancing; requests for testifiers to limit their time in the hearing room to their bill of interest, to wear a mask, (with the exception of when they are testifying), to use the identified entrance and exit doors to help avoid congestion and promote orderly traffic, and to limit or eliminate handouts. Additionally, pages will be sanitizing the front table and chair between testifiers.
This standardized list of Covid-19 Hearing Procedures will be read by each chair at the beginning of each day’s morning hearings and again at the beginning of the afternoon hearings. Additionally, the Covid-19 Hearing Procedures will be posted each day outside of the hearing room next to that day’s hearing agenda.
Additionally, again in consultation with the standing committee chairs, the Clerk’s office, and working with the Legislature’s IT team, I have finalized additional options for public input to expand the public’s access to the legislative process. As described below, these options will give the public more opportunity to have their testimony included within the hearing transcript, provide an opportunity to submit electronic comments through the Legislature’s website, and harmonize rules for providing position letters for the hearing record.
The full details of how to take advantage of these public input options will be available on the website by the end of the week. I strongly urge the public to read the instructions on that page when it is available so that they can evaluate the option that best fits their particular needs.
There are three primary changes. First, an individual may take advantage of “written submitted testimony.” This option allows an individual who has health or safety concerns to be able to provide testimony as if they were in the committee hearing—i.e., they will be listed on the committee statement and their written testimony will be included within the transcript of the hearing—without having to sit in the hearing room for an extended period of time. There are specific requirements for taking advantage of this option that will be detailed on the Nebraska Legislature’s website later this week.
Second, the Legislature has implemented a new feature allowing the online submission of comments on a bill at any stage of debate. The comments will be accessible by all Senators and staff to read.
Third, we have streamlined and made consistent the process for submitting a position letter to the committee. The new rules create a standard procedure and process, including time line, for submitting these emails or letters to be included within the committee record. While not an expansion of current options, I believe that the consistency of the new rules for the submission of a position letter will help ensure that more members of the public are able to have their position included within the record.
For those who do not wish to take advantage of these options, the current option of testifying in person at public hearings will remain available.
New Deadline for Submission of Statements of Intent
In light of the extra burden placed upon committee staff this year with the holding of all day hearings and the new option of submitting written testimony, as Speaker I am asking each senator to observe a new deadline of Monday morning before 9:30 a.m. for submitting the statements of intent for all of your bills which are scheduled for public hearing that week. (This will apply to all bills other than those scheduled for public hearing on a Monday, in which case the statement of intent will be due Friday morning before 9:30 a.m. Additionally, the deadline will be Tuesday before 9:30 a.m. the week of February 15th due to the Monday holiday.)
Our current rules call for senators to submit a statement of intent “at least 24 hours prior to the bill’s hearing.” The creation of an earlier submission deadline will allow our committee clerks to prepare bill books or their committee shared documents drive for their entire week’s hearings at the beginning of the week.
We are one legislative team. The committee clerks are taking on a significant burden to help execute the all-day committee hearing process, which will, in turn, help ensure that the body can continue its work without a suspension of session. In return, this deadline will help the rest of us provide assistance to our committee clerks (especially for the clerks of our 3-day committees).
As always, thank you for your cooperation and patience as we navigate to make our Covid-19 procedural adaptations work for all of us.