Rule changes coming up for debate next week in Nebraska Legislature
It’s time next week for the Legislature to open up discussions on any changes senators want make to their rules, and in the recent past that has led to some long hours of debate.
Two years ago senators spent half the long session arguing over contentious rule changes. In the end, it took them to until the 49th day of a 90-day session, after some fierce and stubborn fighting, to adopt their permanent rules.
The committee on Wednesday and Thursday heard testimony and discussed 16 changes to rules, and voted to advance three of those to the full Legislature. Senators can also bring up their own proposals.
The change that got the most discussion from this new Rules Committee, chaired by Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue, was a proposal by Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz to set a specific number of hours for full and fair debate on a bill bound for cloture, a vote to stop debate. She proposed no less than eight hours for first round, four hours for second round and four hours for final reading.
Speaker Jim Scheer said if every controversial bill got that much debate, he could almost guarantee that not all senators’ and committees’ priority bills would even be discussed.
During her testimony at Wednesday’s hearing, Bolz said it was important to not prioritize efficiency over democracy.
The committee forwarded a proposal for six hours of debate for the first round, three hours for second and 90 minutes for final. That’s the practice Speaker Jim Scheer has been following for two years, to initially allow about three hours of debate on controversial bills and then allow three more if a senator can show he or she has the support to force a vote.
Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen said his concern was that a debate on that rule could prompt discussion on whether to lessen the 33 votes now needed to force a vote.
Committee member Sen. Steve Erdman voted against forwarding the proposal, saying it was a nonissue, up to the speaker, and didn’t need to be written into the rules.
Other changes that got votes to advance: One to provide the Planning Committee with one committee priority designation, proposed by Sen. Tony Vargas, and one to require that any unanimous consent motion to kill a bill, for example, could only be made by the bill’s introducer.
One of the proposals, by Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, that wasn’t moved forward was to require any motion, amendments or move to suspend the rules during debate be demanded by five or more members — not just one senator as is now the case.
He said he is considering bringing up the proposal on Tuesday.
Briese explained at the hearing that the requirement would ensure no one senator could hijack the Legislature or slow walk an entire session, single-handedly crippling it.
While testifier Nathan Leach suggested the change was aimed at Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, who is a master of using the rules, Briese said that was not the case.
“This rule is about protecting the integrity of our institution,” Briese said.
Such a rule would not affect Chambers, he said. He garners enough respect in the body that others would see to it that he would be able to make whatever motions and amendments he would want to make.
Briese considered making it effective in two years, he said, after Chambers leaves because of term limits, to underscore that it’s not about him.