Skip to main content

And they're off!

We have arrived at the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January, and you all know what that means, right? The Nebraska State Legislature is in full swing and off to the races, as of Wednesday, Jan, 3.

As I write this column, the Unicameral has completed Day 3 of Day 60. When you read this in the print edition of the Southern Nebraska Register, the senators will be on Day 8. So, as usual with these moments, there is a little bit of a gap between when I write and when you read—nevertheless, the information about these opening days is relevant and worth your time.

I want to highlight some of the major moments and legislative bills that have been introduced in these opening days.

Setting the Tone. In my experience, the interim (that is, the time in between each legislative session) is a time for senators to recuperate from the prior session. Once recuperated, around October/November, state senators start amping up their efforts. They return more often to the capitol for more meetings with constituents and other legislative stakeholders, and they start writing legislation.

Going into this session, the disposition of senators has been different. There has been less “first day back to school” enthusiasm than usual. The toll of the last legislative session is apparent. State senators are still recovering and healing from what they experienced during the 2023 legislative session, which included difficult and publicly controversial issues, not to mention the non-stop filibuster activity by a small cohort of senators.

With that in mind, Speaker of the Legislature John Arch gave a compelling first day speech.

He called the senators to work on building better relationships with each other, not just at a professional but also at a personal level—at a level of friendship.

He recalled the sacrifice that is entailed in being a public official, and that sacrifice might include sacrifices made for the betterment and integrity of the institution of the Nebraska Legislature.

He also reminded senators that Nebraskans and people around the country are watching the Nebraska Legislature, and that the Unicameral has an opportunity to demonstrate how a legislature can efficiently and effectively function.

The speech was praised by a number of senators. Now, we will witness how these words are taken to heart.

Bill Introductions. In the first three days of the session, over 200 legislative bills have already been introduced. As a reminder, this is a carryover session, so legislation from last year is still alive. In short, the session begins with a full plate that will only get fuller.

Some early highlights of introduced legislation are the following:
- There are bills already related to those early moments of human life. Sen. Rick Holdcroft (Bellevue) has introduced a bill to expand the state’s safe haven law, which permits mothers to “surrender” a newborn child at certain locations. This law allows mothers in difficult circumstances who cannot care for their child to find a way to safely give their child up.
- Sen. George Dungan (Lincoln) introduced a bill to assist mothers and babies where the baby is at-risk for low birth weight. The legislation provides enhanced rates to ensure mothers are getting the prenatal care they need to care for their difficult pregnancy.
- Sen. Carolyn Bosn (Lincoln) introduced legislation helping mothers with gestational diabetes to access continuous glucose monitors.
- Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh (Omaha) introduced legislation to repeal last year’s law to protect babies who have reached 12 weeks of gestational age. While this legislation won’t pass, it would revert Nebraska to allowing babies to be aborted up to 22 weeks into a pregnancy.

Some other legislative bills that have been introduced deal with giving Deferred Action Childhood Arrival migrants the ability to train and certify as law enforcement (Sen. Justin Wayne), expanding how Nebraska provides federal food assistance benefits (Sen. Eliot Bostar and Sen. Terrell McKinney), providing more educational freedom for children (Sen. Steve Erdman), and allowing nitrogen hypoxia to be used for the death penalty (Sen. Loren Lippincott).

Some major themes that are already developing as major topics for debate this session will be property tax relief through broadening the sales tax base by removing certain sales tax exemptions, child care, workforce development, and housing. And they’ll certainly be other major topics that arise.

The next 50-some legislative days will be an adventurous ride that will inevitably fly by in the blink of an eye. As the legislative session takes place, please be praying on a regular basis for our state senators, the governor, staff members, lobbyists, and Nebraskans across the state who will be involved in the session’s activities—pray that they are guided by divine wisdom and charity in their efforts. God bless!

Powered by Firespring