At of the close of session on Thursday, Jan. 18, which was the last day for bill introduction, senators had introduced 468 new bills. After a bill is introduced, the Reference Committee (basically the Executive Board of the Legislature) meets and decides which committee will hear each bill based on the most appropriate area of jurisdiction.

On Jan. 16, hearings began. During a public hearing, some bills are short and simple and can take minutes, other bills that are more complex or controversial can take hours. But every bill receives a public hearing – a feature unique to our Nebraska Unicameral and just a half dozen other states.

Each senator is assigned a full five-day schedule of hearings. I currently serve on the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee which meets on Monday and Tuesday and will hear 33 bills. I am also on the Judiciary Committee which meets on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. This year, a record number of bills, 143, or 30 percent of all bills introduced, have been referred to this one committee.

This means the Judiciary Committee will need to hear eight or nine bills each day the committee meets.

If a recess day falls on Monday or Friday, the committee does not meet on those days. So Chairwoman Ebke has taken the unusual step of scheduling hearings on a recess day in order to accommodate the large number of bills before the Judiciary Committee.

This session, I introduced seven bills, four requested by constituents, one by the Lancaster Public Defender, another by an association and one I felt was good public policy.

I will address each in future updates, as they come up for hearings.

During floor debate this past week we discussed LB469 brought by Senator Tyson Larsen last year which requires fantasy contest operators to be licensed.

Senator Larson presented this bill as a consumer protection bill, however many senators saw this a form of expanded gambling. The bill was discussed for three hours and I doubt Senator Larsen has 33 votes to force the end of debate, so I believe the bill should be done for this session.

Another bill by Senator Larsen debated later in the week was LR18CA. This is a constitutional amendment to allow those who meet the federal voting age, currently set at 18, to be eligible to run for, or be appointed to, elected office.

Under the existing law, a person must be 21 years old to be eligible for the Legislature, age 30 for governor or lieutenant governor, Supreme Court justice or judge on the Supreme Court.

Sen. Chambers, along with others, opposed the idea stating that this age group does not have the experience and knowledge to appropriately serve in these offices. In addition, if we tie the voting age to the federal level, and by chance the federal government lowers the age or raises it, our constitution would be tied to that age. No vote has been taken yet on this issue.

Now that hearings have begun, committees will start advancing new bills to the floor and the speaker will then set the agenda for floor debate of these new bills, beginning about Jan. 29. Senators will also begin to prioritize their issues which will take precedence for scheduling floor debate.

A good source for all things pertaining to the legislature is the website: www.nebraskalegislature.gov. Posted on this site will be the daily agendas, hearing schedules, information on bills, and a link to the Unicameral Update publication which reports on many of the bills being discussed. From this site, you can also connect directly to my official web page.

Constituents are always welcome to call, write or email my office. My email is rbaker@leg.ne.gov and the office number is 402-471-2620.