Nebraskans, the Unicameral’s bills have been introduced. Now it’s your turn.
If you want to know what your senators will be talking about the next few months — and if you have something to tell them about it — you happen to live in a state where it’s easier to do so than virtually any other.
The next few weeks, in particular, are prime time to put in your two cents.
Before we continue, bookmark this website — nebraskalegislature.gov — where you can learn all you need to know.
As the 49 lawmakers finished submitting their bills last week, their committees also began holding public hearings on their proposals. Nowhere else in America, and certainly not in Congress, do legislatures handle the bills before them as Nebraska has for 80 years.
Ever since the first session in 1937 of Nebraska’s one-house, officially nonpartisan Legislature, senators have held public hearings on every bill laid before them. Every one.
This session, that means 739 bills and seven proposed constitutional amendments.
One can say that’s too many if one wishes. That’s fine. The point is that every would-be law, no matter who offers it, comes up for public scrutiny and comment before any senator votes on it.
For the next few weeks, senators will hold floor debate in the mornings and public hearings in the afternoons. As noted earlier this month, western Nebraska’s six senators will be in the thick of the big debates.
One or more of them, but primarily Sens. Mike Groene of North Platte and Steve Erdman of Bayard, have offered bills aimed at property tax relief, either broadly (LBs 372, 483, 530 and 677 and LRs 3CA and 5CA) or through the state school aid formula (LBs 431, 432 and 695).
Groene again wants to address student discipline issues (LB 147) and ensure the land dedicated to NCORPE could be sold while retaining its water rights (LB 606). Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon is addressing R-Project and wind-energy controversies (LBs 155 and 373).
Venango Sen. Dan Hughes has offered a bill affecting the status of “overappropriated” river basins (LB 368) and is carrying Gov. Pete Ricketts’ bill to merge the Department of Environmental Quality with the Nebraska Energy Office (LB 302).
Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams has taken on the challenge of ensuring that property owners who inadvertently miss tax payments can’t lose their properties without full knowledge of their situation (LB 463).
And those are just the big issues. Our senators have sponsored bills on many lesser but important matters, too.
The Legislature’s website tells how you can take part in the public hearing process, either by testifying in person at the State Capitol or submitting comments in writing or online. Enter the bill number on the home page, and you’ll get access to the bill’s language and many other facts and documents telling you exactly what’s going on.
Look on the left-hand side of the webpage to access much more information, including how and where to contact your senator. Transcripts of floor debates are there. The Legislature’s Unicameral Update offers stories on particular hearings and debates.
And while the senators are on the floor, doing their business each day, you can watch and listen to them by clicking on the “Live Video Streaming” feed from Nebraska Educational Television. (If you don’t have a computer but you do have cable TV, NET World also carries the live floor debate.)
Nebraska may be a 500-mile-long state, but its leaders have consistently upheld and widened Nebraskans’ ability to take part in influencing the making of their laws — in person, on TV and online.
It’s all there for you. Don’t hesitate to make use of it all.