Civic Nebraska @ the Statehouse: 2021 in Review

With the 107th Nebraska Legislature adjourning sine die on May 27, Westin Miller takes a look at accomplishments and work yet to be done at the statehouse.

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Well. That happened. 

The 2021 legislative session was intense and unusual. But thanks to the tireless work of volunteers, staff, and a few champions in the Nebraska Legislature, we were able to stop several harmful elections bills and pass one important piece of legislation to improve the state’s voting infrastructure. 

Westin Miller testifying on behalf of LB158.

Because it was the first year of the new biennium, we started with leadership elections. Several of the elections were extremely close (decided by one or two votes), and there were several changes in leadership. After the first few days of leadership elections and committee assignments, the body pivoted to all-day committee hearings. This was a COVID-specific provision. The idea was to limit the interactivity of floor debate, finish all committee business early, and then transition to floor debate. 

The government committee, where we do most of our work, was again led by Sen. Tom Brewer; Sens. Blood, Hansen, Hunt, and Lowe all returned to the committee, where they were joined by Sens. Halloran, McCollister, and Sanders. We appreciate all of the senators’ work on the committee. We had a chance to engage with every member during committee hearings, and we look forward to continuing to work with them under less extreme circumstances in 2022! 

There were a number of bills introduced that would have either threatened voting rights and/or harmed the integrity of our elections system. Some of these proposals were familiar to us, others were born of the vile anti-elections rhetoric that pervaded the 2020 elections. We’re happy to report that none of those bills advanced from committee.

Voter ID was, as usual, the highest-profile hearing, and we were amazed by your advocacy. Opponents were passionate, sincere, and well-prepared. While LR3CA didn’t have a path to victory, it was powerful to show the Legislature that we will never sleep on this issue, and will respond forcefully to any proposal that could unnecessarily make the voting process more difficult. 

The government committee again failed to act on proposals to restore voting rights for Nebraskans who have completed a felony sentence. Sen. Wayne’s LB158, which would have eliminated Nebraska’s excessive two-year waiting period, and Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh’s LR10CA, which would have eliminated felony disenfranchisement entirely, are both still in the committee. Because of our biennium structure, the committee will have an opportunity to advance these proposals in 2022, and we will be frequently encouraging them to do so.

We are happy to report that LB285, the government committee’s priority bill, passed and was signed into law. LB285, among other things, laid the groundwork for Nebraska to join ERIC, the Electronic Registration Information Center. ERIC membership is a key Civic Nebraska policy priority, and a great example of how we can promote election integrity and security without jeopardizing the accessibility of our system. 

All told, we’re pretty thankful for this session to be over. COVID made everything extra complicated and everyone more stressed, but we’re nonetheless so thankful for our volunteers, organizational partners, and legislative champions who made this session as successful as possible. 

We’ll be working diligently in the summer and fall to make the 2022 session as productive as possible. We’ll also be prepared for the Legislature’s special session in September to address redistricting. As always, if you have questions, concerns, or ideas about elections or the voter experience in Nebraska, please reach out to us. We want to hear about what works well for you as a voter, what gets in the way of a smooth Election Day, and any other ideas you have for improving elections in Nebraska. 

Thank you again for your hard work and diligence this session!

 

Westin Miller
Director of Public Policy

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