Filibusters, turmoil didn’t stop senators from passing hundreds of proposals into law

In a session marked by hot button issues, divisiveness and weeks long filibusters, senators stand by the work done over the last 90 days.
Published: Jun. 2, 2023 at 5:11 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - In a session marked by hot button issues, divisiveness and weeks long filibusters, senators stand by the work done over the last 90 days.

“I would say it’s probably one of the most historic legislative sessions we’ve had, from a public policy perspective,” said State Senator Beau Ballard, District 21, Lincoln.

“In many ways, this was a session where many big things happened, support or not support, big things happened” said State Sen. Wendy DeBoer, District 10, Omaha.

Speaker John Arch echoed that, saying the filibusters simply forced them to get work done differently.

“We added a lot of hours, we worked late into the night, and then the use of committee packages was key to passing those good government bills we needed to have passed,” Arch said.

Clerk of the Legislature Brandon Metzler said Governor Jim Pillen will sign just 27 bills into law, but they included nearly 300 individual bill proposals, most packaged by committee. Data from past sessions show on average, about 30% of bills introduced get passed in a long session. Looking at this session, when you include all of the bills compiled into committee packages, 35% of the more than 800 bills introduced became law.

“It’s just the manner in which those items and those measures passed and gotten, you know, got through the finish line is certainly different than we’ve seen,” Metzler said.

The state constitution does require bills to all cover a single subject, Metzler said this isn’t typically an issue, unless someone sues.

“It is not something that the courts are really dig into deep,” Metzler said.

Out of the 27 bills passed, just one has come under legal fire so far. LB 574, which combined the Let Them Grow Act and Preborn Protection Act. It limited both abortions and transgender health care. That bill also brought record public participation to the capitol.

“Thousands of Nebraskans took time to attend hearings, write comments engage with their state senators, we saw hundreds of businesses engage on critical issues, including human rights issues,” said Sen. Danielle Conrad, District 46, Lincoln.

Arch said that participation will be part of an interim study.

“The intention behind it is to make sure that the public does have an opportunity for meaningful input and we’re not stopping it,” Arch said. “We’re just making sure that we have a process to handle that.”

Another task over the interim is rebuilding relationships.

“We need to check our party labels at the door and we need to find a way to work together,” Conrad said.

Some senators said that’s the goal for the next session, and they’re already seeing positive signs.

“At the end here, we finally got a lot of things done,” Senator Myron Dorn, out of District 30 in Beatrice said.

“I think there are a lot of green shoots coming up like they do in the beginning of spring, I hope that there will be some return to less partisan days and folks can sit down and work together and listen to each other.”

Arch said the divisiveness seen this session isn’t’ a Nebraska Unicameral problem, but a symptom of a polarized society.

“We’re going to see that we’re going to see that in our legislature as well,” Arch said.

Arch and Metzler said it’s an issue made worse by term limits, which brought in a lot of new senators, many of whom share more extreme views and didn’t have established relationships with fellow lawmakers.

“We can debate policy all day, but relationships are what makes that body work,” Arch said.

“I think some of the newer members are still finding their footing,” Metzler said. “They got thrown obviously, as we’ve mentioned previously into a very divisive session.”

Arch said through the rocky relationships, nearly every bill passed with strong bipartisan support, which lends hope to the task senators have ahead of them over the break; finding common ground.

“It’s going to take a lot of work,” said State Sen. Beau Ballard, District 21, Lincoln. “A lot of mending from both sides of the aisle.”

“This may be the low low water mark for partisanship in our Nebraska unicameral legislature,” Conrad said. “But the good news is we have nowhere to go but up and that’s together.”

In a session marked by hot button issues, divisiveness and weeks long filibusters, senators stand by the work done over the last 90 days.