Spring interns Sarah O’Neill and Caitlin Summerlin have been instrumental in a lot of behind-the-scenes work at Civic Nebraska in recent months, and have also had a front-row seat to the legislative process this session. Below are their joint reflections on their experience at Civic Nebraska. Civic Nebraska is now accepting applications for summer interns – contact Kelsey Arends at email@example.com.
Sarah: Interning at Civic Nebraska has given me the unique opportunity to see what the lawmaking process is like from all angles. The first time I went to the State Capitol during this legislative session, Bri – Civic Nebraska Director of Voting Rights – showed me the ropes and explained the nuanced process of how a bill becomes a law (or doesn’t) in the Unicameral.
Our state senators were debating LB 111, voter ID, and the next day Caitlin saw the vote that killed this threat to Nebraskan democracy. Since the Unicameral is bipartisan, Bri explained that it is not necessarily obvious which state senators will vote for which bills – from a different angle, outside the Legislative Chamber, a lot of work went into protecting Nebraskans’ right to vote, including quite a bit of research beforehand.
Caitlin: A couple weeks later Sarah and I got a quick tour of the Capitol and a chance to sit in on the filibuster for LB 10, which would have adopted a winner-take-all system for electoral votes. Afterward, we sat down with Civic Nebraska Executive Director and State Senator Adam Morfeld. He explained the process in a little more depth and answered our questions about all the things we didn’t get. For example, Senator Chambers added an amendment to the bill that changed only one word – turns out that wasn’t meant to be substantive, but adding an amendment grants a senator more time to speak.
Adam gave us a picture of how the legislature works, explained how bills are introduced, how they get assigned to a committee, have a hearing, and then become part of the general file. He also explained how the general file and select file work – a lot of things we probably learned in fourth grade, but it was nice to have a refresher on the details. Moreover, even though we learned this in textbooks, it is much different to actually see the process or hear about it from a senator.
What was really interesting was hearing Adam talk about how the legislature works as a truly nonpartisan body. Call me old-fashioned, but I love to hear about Nebraskans working together, even if we had just sat in on a particularly partisan-split debate. Despite that, Adam told us that senators are representatives for their constituents, not their political party.