Greetings and happy new year from all of us at NADP! Today marks the first day of the Second Session of the 107th Nebraska Legislature. As 2022 is an even-numbered year, this "short" session will be only 60 days; with weekends and recess days included, the session is currently scheduled to run from January 5 to April 20. Senator Mike Hilgers, representing District 21 in the northwest parts of Lincoln and Lancaster County, will return as Speaker. Read on for important information about bill introduction and ways to make your voice heard!
How An Idea Becomes Law
When a senator has an idea for new legislation, they work with the talented bill drafters in the office of the Revisor of Statutes to determine the best way to integrate this idea with existing Nebraska state statutes. This could be as simple as altering language in certain sections of laws already in effect, or it could necessitate the creation of entire new sections—but either way, the bill drafters work with the senator(s) to create a Legislative Bill that is then filed with the Clerk of the Legislature and given a number, typically within the first ten days of the session. That's where bill designations such as LB268 come from, though senators may also introduce nonbinding resolutions that get an LR designation. The Legislative Fiscal Office is then responsible for preparing statements that anticipate how a proposed bill would affect the state budget—and, if necessary, the Fiscal Office creates a companion appropriations bill (titled such as LB268A) so the Legislature can provide funds for the effects of the bill should it become law.
The bill then goes to the Reference Committee, consisting of nine senators selected by the body, where it is evaluated on its content and sent to one of 14 standing committees (such as Natural Resources, Health and Human Services, etc.), each also consisting of senators selected by the body. Most of the bills we focus on at NADP land in the Judiciary Committee, which deals with proposed changes to criminal codes.
Each bill is guaranteed a public hearing by its assigned committee. This is often our first and best chance to offer testimony on proposed legislation! Committee chairs can adjust the public hearing process for time, but the basic structure is as follows:
The senator who introduced the bill offers an opening statement on the purpose and functionality of the proposed legislation.
People speaking on behalf of organizations or in their capacity as private citizens offer testimony as proponents (in favor of the bill), opponents (opposed to the bill), or as neutral testifiers. When each testifier finishes, senators on the committee may ask them questions if they have any.
When all testifiers have had their say and there is no further discussion by committee members, the senator who introduced the bill offers a closing statement (sometimes this is waived).
After a bill receives its hearing, the committee may choose to take no action, to "indefinitely postpone" the bill, or to vote the bill out to General File—the next step toward the bill becoming law.
In General File, the full legislature has the chance to debate, amend, and advance bills. In order to amend or advance a bill during General File, a simple majority vote (25 out of 49 senators) is required. General File also presents the first opportunity for senators who oppose the bill to mount a filibuster, which is an attempt to stall a bill and prevent it from advancing. Bills that succeed in advancing from General File then go to Enrollment & Review (E&R), a process that harmonizes amendments and checks grammar and technical accuracy.
Once a bill completes E&R, it is placed on Select File, which is the second round of debate. Bills on Select are subject to the same rules and vote thresholds as General (and again become vulnerable to filibuster), though the time spent debating such bills is typically shorter. Bills that receive enough votes to advance from Select are again sent to E&R before Final Reading. Bills on Final reading may not be amended or debated directly, but they may be returned to Select File for further adjustment.
A bill which receives enough votes to pass Final Reading is then sent to the Governor, who then has five days to decide whether to sign the bill into law or veto it by sending it back unsigned. In the event of a veto, the legislature may attempt an override motion to force the bill into law without the Governor's signature—though this requires 30 votes to accomplish!
What You Can Do
As mentioned above, the best chance we have to make our voices heard is during the public committee hearing, the very first hurdle a bill must clear to have a chance at becoming law. Although there are a few different ways to accomplish this, we are disappointed to report that some of the accessibility measures introduced for last year's session, in an effort to make the process safer during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, have been rescinded. You can find an official set of guidelines on the Nebraska Legislature website, but the three current options for committee hearings are as follows:
In-person testimony is the most effective option. If you are able, this is your chance to explain your views directly to the committee, though this process can be lengthy. Those who are unable to set aside time during a weekday to travel to the Capitol and wait their turn to speak on a bill (as well as those unwilling to tolerate potential exposure to coronavirus) may not find this option practical.
Position comments for the public hearing record may be submitted online via each bill's information page on the legislature's website. Comments submitted specifically in this way will be included in the official hearing record as an exhibit, but comments submitted via email or via hard copy will not be included in the hearing record (though they are still a potential way to communicate your views to individual senators).
Online comments present an opportunity for public input on a piece of legislation at any stage of the process. Those submitting comments in this way will have the option of requesting they be added to the public hearing record, as long as they are submitted a day before the committee hearing.
Due to the way the committee hearing process works, NADP tries to focus on organizing as many testifiers as possible when there is a bill that would slow, reduce, or eliminate the state's ability to execute someone. If such a bill advances out of committee, our calls to action then shift to pressuring individual senators—while it's true that most senators are more likely to consider input from their own constituents, sometimes we will try to focus pressure on certain senators that might be on the fence! Finally, if the legislature passes a relevant bill on Final Reading and sends it to the Governor's desk, we will put out the call for everyone to pressure the Governor into doing the right thing.
What's Happens Now?
As bills are introduced in the next couple of weeks, NADP staff and board members will comb through them looking for anything that might limit Nebraska's ability or authority to execute people. We will report our findings to you once bill introduction is complete, so keep an eye on this space and on our social media pages for updates and opportunities to make your voices heard in the march toward a more just and humane Nebraska!
In the meantime, here are a few links to check out:
Thank you so much for all you do!