[Author: Mark Othmer, 01.17 | Keywords: Nebraska Field Notes, Nebraska Legislature]
The first session of the 105th Nebraska Unicameral got underway on January 4, 2017. What is traditionally a day filled with pomp, circumstance and expectations of a smooth session with everyone working in harmony, was soon left in the dust.
On the first day, the senators decide who will serve as speaker of the legislature, who will chair the standing committees and who will serve on each of these committees. In the past, this has been a fairly simple process, with senators voting by secret ballot to determine the speaker and legislative chairs and then breaking into the three U.S. Congressional Districts to determine who will serve on each committee, giving preference to seniority, as well as keeping the preferences of each senator in mind.
While there was some discussion to do away with the secret ballot, the tradition was upheld for the time being, and the senators did caucus by Congressional District to decide who would serve on each committee. This was not, by any means, a smooth process.
It became evident early on that a sizeable group of senators had already caucused amongst themselves, ultimately deciding who would be getting the chairmanship of each committee. This was not well received by other members of the Unicameral, especially since some who had served as committee chairs were removed from chairmanship by this group. Several also noted that a majority of committees will now be chaired by more fiscally conservative leaning members than in the past.
Following is a list of the standing committees and the senators who will serve on each. In some instances, new senators are chairing a committee, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in the past. There are 17 new lawmakers this session, with first-year senators filling more than one-third of the Legislature’s 49 seats. Roughly 70% of this year’s senators have two years of experience or less, mostly due to Nebraska’s term limits. In all, 32 registered Republicans, 15 Democrats, one Independent, and one Libertarian comprise the official, non-partisan Legislature this session.
About the Author
For nearly 20 years, Mark has traveled across Nebraska calling on members. A “regular” at the State Capitol, Mark keeps his finger on the pulse of legislative issues affecting members. When he’s not driving across Nebraska, Mark can be found golfing, cheering on the Nebraska Cornhuskers and spending lazy afternoons at the family farm.