With the Legislative session starting today, we think it’s important to refresh our memory on how the Legislature works. Below you will find how and a bill becomes a law in Nebraska and some quick and quirky facts about the Unicameral.
Research is an integral part of the legislative process. Many times a constituent will bring their research to their senator or staff with an idea for a law change. Other times a constituent will state a problem to the senator and the senator will have his staff do the research. If a senator knows ahead of time (during the session) then that senator can request an interim study to be done by one of the legislative committees between sessions. Sometimes these studies will involve a hearing for public input.
The research involves reviewing other states’ policies and laws, comparing those policies to how Nebraska’s system works and reviewing other possible solutions. This mostly takes place during the interim between sessions.
A senator brings his or her idea, or someone else’s idea, for a new bill to a bill drafter, who works with the senator to transform the idea into the proper legal form for a bill. Unlike some states, the bills introduced in Nebraska may contain only one subject.
Bills Introduced and Numbered
Bills are introduced during the first ten working days of the session. During the 1st year, bills are numbered starting with #1, and during the second year, the bills are numbered starting with the last number from the previous year. Typically, there are 700-800 bills introduced in year one and 300-400 introduced during year two.
Referred to Standing Committee
The executive committee refers the bill to a standing committee based on the purpose and goal of the bill.
The Legislative Fiscal office prepares budget statements known as fiscal notes for each bill introduced. The fiscal notes are generally prepared before the hearing and include recommendations from agencies that are directly tied to the bill.
Every bill will always have one public hearing. This is the point where public opinion becomes part of the record for the bill. Anyone can testify in support, in opposition or in a neutral capacity. A person can provide just written testimony to all the members of the committee or sign the sign-in sheet in support or opposition.
The Committee can:
- Hold the bill
- Indefinitely postpone (IPP) the bill – kill the bill
- Advance the bill to general file with or without amendments.
This is the first out of three rounds of debate for the bill involving all 49 senators. Once the bill is debated, Legislators may:
- Pass over bill and leave it on general file
- IPP– kill the bill by simple majority
- Advance the bill by a majority vote of elected members (25)
Appropriations Bill Drafted when required
If a bill’s provisions require an appropriation of more than $50,000 for the ensuing fiscal year, an “A” bill is prepared when the bill reaches general file bearing the original bill’s #. This “A” bill must receive its own votes to advance and will be debated along with the bill at each stage of the legislative process.
Enrollment and Review Initial (E&R Initial)
The bill that is advanced from general file will be corrected for spelling and punctuation. Other technical changes will occur as well as adopted amendments being added into the bill language to make one cohesive bill. This cohesive bill will then be accepted by the full Legislature before considering other amendments at the next stage.
This is the second round of debate where other amendments may be considered and adopted by a majority vote (25). At this point Legislators may:
- Pass over the bill
- IPP- by majority vote (25)
- Advance the bill by a majority vote (25)
Enrollment and Review Final (E&R Final)
Bill and amendments are delivered to Enrollment and Review where amendments are incorporated and a new copy is prepared called the Gold Copy. No bill can be passed on Final Reading until at least one legislative day after the bill is placed on Final Reading.
At this final stage of the bill it will be voted on one final time. Final reading can also be waived by vote of the Legislators. At this point, Legislators may:
- IPP – by majority of votes (25)
- Return bill to select file for additional amendments (25)
- Pass bill with 25 votes unless bill has an emergency clause attached, then it requires 33 votes.
Once the bill has passed the final reading stage, the Speaker signs the bill and it is sent to the Governor. The Governor may:
- Veto– the Governor has five days (excluding Sundays) to return the bill to the Legislature unsigned (requires 3/5 or 30 votes for Legislative override a veto).
- The bill becomes law without the Governor’s signature if the Governor takes no action during the five days.
- The bill is signed and becomes law three calendar months after the last day of the Legislative session unless the bill has an emergency clause, in which case it goes into effect immediately.
- Nebraska is the only unicameral, or one house, legislature in the country
- Nebraska legislators are officially nonpartisan and run on non-party ticket
- Senators have a four-year term with the senators in the odd-numbered districts running for re-election during the odd numbered years and the even numbered Senators running for re-election during the even numbered years. Term limits have been enacted and limit senators to two consecutive terms.
- Each Legislative session is a 2-year session. 1st year is 90 days – session ends during 1st week of June, 2nd year is 60 days – session ends during mid-April.
- The first day of the session is the first Wednesday after the first Tuesday of the month.
- Bills are introduced during the first 10 working days of the Legislature
- Every bill has a hearing
- Hearings are generally completed around end of February for the short session, round mid-March for the long session.After hearings are done for the year – Senators are on the floor all day debating bills.
- Committee will hold an Executive Session (closed door session) to vote to move the bill to General File
- Consent Calendar: Bills voted out of committee with no dissenting votes and no amendments can be put on consent calendar if the speaker and committee chair agree. The consent calendar bills may receive expedited floor debate, allowing no more than 15 minutes for each bill. If the body isn’t ready to vote on the bill after 15 minutes, it will be removed from the consent calendar list and put back on the general calendar.
- Priority Bills
– Get first consideration
– Each Senator can choose 1 priority bill
– Speaker gets 25 priority bills
– Each committee gets 2 priority bills.
The source for all of the latest information is the Legislature’s website: nebraskalegislature.gov. There you can find the bills introduced, track the status of bills and watch hearings and floor debate live.