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The transition ahead

Before I begin my weekly legislative rant, I want to offer a reminder.

Last week, I wrote about the Catholics at the Capitol online series we launched a few days ago. Earlier in the week on Tuesday, we featured Archbishop Lucas and Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers to talk about the 2021 legislative session. As sometimes happens, I’m writing about an event that has not yet occurred, but will have occurred once you read this. However, I can tell you already—based on my predictions—that it was awesome and, if you couldn’t make it, you missed out on a great event. But, don’t worry, you can access a recording on our Facebook page or our website (www.necatholic.org).

Also, you won’t want to miss part two of our three-part series.

On Tuesday, March 16, our second Catholics at the Capitol online event will feature a terrific panel: Bishop James Conley, Lieutenant Governor Mike Foley, and Nikki Shasserre. This powerhouse panel will discuss “Why a Good Catholic Meddles in Politics.” The event will be from 7:30 to 9 p.m. We hope the evening event will allow more folks to attend, as we understand not everybody can watch our events over the noon hour. Go register at www.necatholic.org.

Then, on Tuesday night, grab a drink of your choice and tune in for a practical discussion about how to fit advocacy into your everyday life—and don’t forget to ask some good questions for the panelists!

Now, onto “The transition ahead.”

Once my column shows up in your mailbox, the Nebraska Legislature will have completed Day 42 of their session. For those not counting at home, this year is a 90-day (“long”) session which means we are almost halfway done. And the fun is just about to begin.

At the close of this week, the Legislature will be finished with legislative committee hearings. Now that committee hearings are a thing of the past, the Legislature transitions and turns its attention to all-day legislative floor debate.

The close of this week will also bring with it another important milestone in the session. All Senators and Committees will have designated their “priority” bills.

Sounds great, Tom, but what’s a priority bill? Thanks—I never thought you’d ask!

As the Nebraska Legislature’s website states, a priority bill is a “bill that has priority status and is generally considered ahead of other bills in debate.” Another way to understand it is the following: the Legislature only has limited time to consider legislation and, since it can’t debate every bill that has been introduced, a priority bill is one a Senator or Committee thinks is so important that it should be considered before all other non-prioritized legislation.
Each Senator gets to designate one bill as their priority legislation. Each Committee can designate two bills as its priority legislation. The Speaker of the Legislature may choose up to 25 priority bills.

I sometimes refer to the priority bill designation deadline as the second time the “cards are dealt” in the Legislature.

The first time this occurs is the end of the 10-day bill introduction. At the close of bill introduction, we know all the bills that will be considered by the Legislature. Then, when the Senators designate their priority bills, we know that the rest of the session will be largely focused on a certain universe of legislative bills. In next week’s column, I’ll provide an overview of some of the major issues that have been prioritized, especially those pertaining to the work of the Nebraska Catholic Conference.

The Nebraska Legislature will be homing in on top-tier legislative priorities and, of course, the statewide budget. Some of these bills will pass and some will die a legislative death. Each day, Senators will be engaged in sometimes low-key and sometimes heated and full-fledged debate with each other on the merits of what should or should not become law in Nebraska.

The transition ahead, then, will be important to pay attention to. As the inscription on the State Capitol states: “The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness in the Citizen.”

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