The 105th Nebraska Legislature, Second Session, convened today (Jan. 3) with 32 Republicans (one brand new), 14 Democrats, 2 Independents and a Libertarian. They’ll be meeting for 60 days so the ones who are facing re-election can get home and campaign. The preliminary calendar says the nation’s only nonpartisan one-house legislature meets from January 3 to 18.
As many as 12 of those Republicans could be on Governor Pete Ricketts watch list to see if he’ll need to find and fund opponents in the May primary and November election. It’s a short session for the officially nonpartisan body, due to end before the primary.
Six senators – four Republicans, one Democrat and one Independent – will be serving their last year because of term limits which were approved by voters some years ago. Republicans Lydia Brasch, Tyson Larson, Paul Schumacher and Jim Smith were first elected in 2010 and will meet the two-term limit. Democrat Burke Harr and Independent Bob Krist (he was a Republican last session) will also term out.
There is some speculation that Smith might seek another elective office. Krist has announced an Independent bid for the Governor’s office, risky business in an overwhelmingly partisan Republican state. It would take support from dissident Republicans and Democrats to support the state’s growing nonpartisan base to make a Krist bid successful. State Democratic Chairwoman Jane Kleeb has already announced that the Democrats will field a candidate.
Lawmakers will have the traditional 10 days to introduce new bills and resolutions. They’ll be added to the load that includes 447 bills and 10 resolutions carried over from the first session. That’s a lot of work to be woven
into a calendar that includes 14 recess days and two holidays – Martin Luther King Day on January 15 and President’s Day on February 19.
Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer of Norfolk has stated publicly that he hopes to avoid a rules fight. Debate over a proposed change to the filibuster rules lingered for 30 days last session. In fact, the Rules Committee met before Christmas in an effort to pave a smooth path into the next session.
The dean of the Capitol Press Corps, Don Walton of the Lincoln Journal Star, said committee members expressed concern about the “startling lack of experience now prevalent in terms of service on legislative committees.” Walton noted that committees are the funnel “through which legislative bills must pass and some knowledge or experience dealing with what can be some very complicated issues and subject matter like tax laws is important in reaching legislative results.”
According to the discussion, the average time a senator serves on a specific committee has shrunk to roughly two years. Next year, Walton noted, at least five of the eight members of the tax-writing Revenue Committee will be gone.
Krist blames that partly on "a political agenda that decided to stack the committee" last January. He noted that the same thing happened when a brand new gubernatorial appointee, Sen. Rob Clements of Elmwood, was immediately awarded a seat on the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.
There will be one new face in the chamber. Theresa Thibodeau, a LaVista pre-school owner, was sworn in October 19 to replace Senator Joni Craighead in Omaha’s District 6. Craighead resigned September 1. Thibodeau will have to run for the seat in the May primary and November election along with other senators representing even-numbered districts.
One can expect the six short-timers to freely speak their minds this session, with the exception of Krist who is running for a different office and Smith (and maybe others) who may also be running for an elected state position. The dozen Ricketts’ targets might also be a little less vocal.
The circus is back in town. Let the drama commence.
J.L. Schmidt is the statehouse correspondent for the Nebraska Press Association. He has been covering Nebraska government and politics since 1979. He has been a registered Independent for 19 years.