Civic Nebraska @ the Statehouse: 2024 preview

With a critical election coming up later this year, we all must remain vigilant against efforts to curtail our access to the ballot.

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Happy New Year to all who support democracy and voting rights!

On Jan. 3, senators convene for the second session of the biennial Nebraska Legislature. This will be a short, 60-day session ending mid-April. Here’s a legislative calendar for those keeping track. 

Any bills left unresolved from the 2023 session will carry over to this session and are still in play, though Speaker John Arch has indicated that any priority designations made last year will not carry over. He will be setting the debate schedule to accommodate only new priority designations made in 2024 (each senator can designate one priority bill and committees may select two).

In a memo to senators, Speaker Arch outlined how he envisions the start of the session:

  • Jan. 3-17: new bill introduction
  • Jan. 8: likely hearing on legislative rules
  • Jan 10-17: potential rules debate
  • Jan. 22-Feb. 29: public hearings

Both Speaker Arch and Sen. Steve Erdman, chair of the Rules Committee, have shared proposals for changes to the legislative rules that determine how the session is conducted. Some of these changes are intended to curtail efforts like the months-long filibuster we saw last session in response to contentious policies to limit health care for transgender youth and abortion rights. While some of the proposed rule changes are minor, several would have concerning ramifications that could stifle the voice of the minority.

All state legislatures have seen an increase in partisan polarization in recent decades for a variety of reasons, but the rise in Nebraska is staggering (see chart), largely because we started with the solid foundation of nonpartisanship that our unicameral system provided us. 

Two Decades of Polarization in American State Legislatures, a study by the University of Houston and Princeton University, 2022. Note that the chart doesn’t include what would certainly be a huge leap in polarization for the 2023 legislative session. Anyone who works in or around the Legislature might say this similarly tracks their blood pressure.

The solution to this polarization is not rule changes, but behavioral change. Our New Year’s resolution for the Legislature is that senators choose to return to the traditions of nonpartisanship unique to our unicameral system and work together for the common good of Nebraska. In 2024, we want the Legislature to make policymaking boring again.

We’ll also see a new face in the chamber this year. Sen. Fred Meyer of St. Paul has been appointed by the governor to replace former senator Tom Briese, who was appointed to replace John Murante as state treasurer. Sen. Meyer served for more than a decade on the Nebraska State Board of Education and will likely join the Education and Revenue committees, where Sen. Briese left vacancies.

As always, we will be watching for new bills introduced that could affect Nebraskans’ voting rights and any changes proposed to the electoral process. With a critical election coming up later this year, we all must remain vigilant against efforts to curtail our access to the ballot.

Let’s keep defending democracy together.

Heidi Uhing
Director of Public Policy
Civic Nebraska

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