Civic Nebraska @ the Statehouse: 2024 session in review

Director of Public Policy Heidi Uhing on the 2024 session of the Nebraska Legislature.

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The 2024 session of the Nebraska Legislature ended April 18, with senators and the governor seeming resigned that a special session is needed this summer to take another run at addressing property tax reductions the governor had hoped to win in this short session but did not achieve.

Winner-take-all threat

This is particularly concerning for voting rights, given the unexpected round of national attention that Nebraska’s unique split Electoral College vote received during the waning days of the session. While LB764 had been introduced in 2023 to make Nebraska a winner-take-all state, the bill had not advanced from committee. Sudden, outside partisan pressure to pass the bill to hypothetically benefit Donald Trump in this year’s general election made for a chaotic end to the session, with the governor leaving the door open to calling a special session on the issue after the Legislature failed to succumb to national pressure to pass it.

Voting rights restored

But overall, we achieved a significant win for democracy this session. For 20 years, Nebraskans who have served their felony sentences have been subject to an arbitrary two-year waiting period after their release, probation and parole, before their voting rights are restored. This policy has had a chilling effect, as potential voters are unclear about when they are eligible to register and the penalty for doing so if ineligible is great.
After eight years of advocacy and hard work, we have put that unjust policy behind us. The Legislature finally passed LB20, meaning that starting this July, these disenfranchised voters will have their voting rights restored. The bill was sponsored by State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, prioritized by State Sen. Jane Raybould of Lincoln, and passed 38-6. It was allowed to become law without a governor’s signature or veto.
Now the secretary of state and attorney general have indicated their intention to challenge the constitutionality of the Legislature restoring voting rights. We are confident that the policy will be upheld, given that Nebraska’s Supreme Court ruled in 2002 when considering restoring voting rights, that “restoration of the right to vote is implemented through statute.” It doesn’t get simpler than that.
In the meantime, we are working with our Voting Rights Restoration Coalition to reach out to the 7,000 Nebraskans impacted by this policy to inform them of their newly restored right to vote before the November general election. Those who are impacted can get registered once the law goes into effect July 18 at GetMyVoteBack.org.
We also had great hearings on bills in support of automatic voter registration, (LB1042, introduced by State Sen. John Fredrickson of Omaha) and media literacy (LB1371, introduced by State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha). Those bills were not advanced out of committee.

Interim studies

Other bills we supported inspired interim studies to enable further investigation and inform potential legislation for the 2025 legislative session:
  • LR362, introduced by State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, to examine the dangers posed by artificial intelligence for elections; and
  • LR369, introduced by State Sen. Jen Day of Gretna, to examine the barriers to voting and equal representation for Native Americans in Nebraska.
You’ll be hearing more from us on these issues later this summer and fall.

Concerning legislation

Even with this progress, we were not immune from concerning legislation that threatened our democratic processes.
LB1402, the final bill passed this session, circumvents the state’s referendum process and undermines the thousands of Nebraskans who signed petitions to put school funding on the ballot in November. Our state has a long history of empowering citizens in shaping policy through the referendum process. It’s fundamental to our Nebraska heritage and reflects our values of fairness and accountability. LB1402 erodes this tradition by bypassing the will of the people in favor of well-funded special interests. This is an unfortunate precedent to set. Expect to hear more on this issue in the coming weeks as petition sponsors determine their response.
Other attempts to thwart democratic processes were fought off, including efforts to limit the early voting period (LB1211), make ballot initiative campaigns more difficult to conduct (LB1382), permanently join the list of states calling for a Constitutional Convention (LR31), make public power district elections partisan (LB541), and change the legislative rules to weaken our unique, officially nonpartisan Unicameral.
Your advocacy and outreach to senators on these issues made all the difference. So thank you for staying informed, involved, and civically engaged.

 

 

Heidi Uhing
Director of Public Policy

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