The legislative session started Wednesday with considerably less tension than some might have expected based on 2017.

A year ago, observers labeled the start of the session as "unprecedented," in its nearly sweeping election of conservative Republicans, and three first-year senators, to committee chairmanships.

The start of the 2018 session was more business as usual. Only one panel -- the select Committee on Committees -- got a new chairman, and Omaha Sen. Robert Hilkemann is considered a more independent-minded lawmaker.

The day began with hugs, wishes of Happy New Year, and even a politician kissing a baby -- albeit his own.

Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg, who led the opening prayer, told senators that Wednesday was the ninth day of Christmas leading to the Epiphany on Saturday.

"And my prayer for each of you today is that we think about the epiphanies that we can have, the expectations, the preparation, the hope, and ask ourselves each as we pray today, 'Are we ready?'" Williams said.

A few families gathered with members, most notable that of new Omaha Sen. Theresa Thibodeau, who at Gov. Pete Ricketts' request replaced Joni Craighead, who resigned abruptly in September. And the baby who was kissed? Natalia, daughter of Sen. John Murante and wife Melissa.

Thibodeau said she was excited -- and a little nervous -- on her first day as a senator. She has busy months ahead, spending weekdays with the Legislature, and weekends in Omaha campaigning for her seat, which is up for election this year.

When senators settled down to business Wednesday, they elected Hilkemann to the 13-member group that assigns senators to committees and oversees their functioning.

Hilkemann achieved the chairmanship on a 25-24 vote over Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings, a more conservative Republican.

By adjournment around noon, senators had introduced 119 bills and seven resolutions, one of those to congratulate the Nebraska volleyball team for their 2017 national championship.

The Legislature easily adopted temporary rules. And Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk did not have to caution, as he did a year ago, that he "cannot nor will not be intimidated by anyone or any group."

Instead he talked about how the coming weeks will proceed, with Ricketts' State of the State address on Jan. 10 and bill hearings beginning Jan. 16. Full day debate will begin Feb. 28.

It really is more of a 50-day session than a 60-day session, he reminded senators.

"I welcome everyone back," he said. "It is nice to start on a positive note. I'm looking forward to great things. I may be more optimist than most. I think we'll have a great session."


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