State Senator Steve Erdman talks with State Senator Ben Hansen on the floor of the Legislature. Erdman wears a navy suit, a white button-up shirt and a tie with stripes resembling the American flag. His official senator pin is pinned to his left shoulder.
State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska News Service)

Time is running out on a constitutional amendment that would change Nebraska’s form of government.

Nebraska is the only state to have a one house government, meaning there is just one legislative body, no house and senate. 

This is because in 1934, voters decided that the Legislature should become a nonpartisan body, which was put into effect in 1937.

State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard’s LR2CA would change the legislature into a bicameral. But with only about 20 days of the current legislative session left, the bill is still in committee.

LR2CA, a constitutional amendment, has three main components: changing the Legislature from a Unicameral to a bicameral Legislature with a house of representatives and a senate, changing the election of representatives from a nonpartisan ballot to a partisan one and requiring all meetings of the Legislature to be open to the public.

At the hearing for LR2CA on March 9, Erdman said he wants to make sure representation for Nebraskans is not only across the state, but by geography.

For example, Erdman said five of 49 legislators currently live west of Kearney. His proposal would add around a dozen senators to a proposed state senate.

Erdman outlined in LR2CA that for every three contiguous counties, there would be one senator. With 93 counties in Nebraska, this would amount to 31 senators.

20230309 122633 scaled e1682302742417 300x201 - With only weeks left in session, constitutional amendment to take Nebraska from a one-house legislature to two still in committee
Sen. Steve Erdman prepares to introduce LR2CA to a panel of his colleagues, Mar 9, 2023, (Caitlyn Thomas).

“I think it makes sense that we have an opportunity to have people appointed from different locations and geographic locations across the state,” he said.

Nebraska’s unicameral was implemented as a way to limit partisanship in the legislature.

“George Norris, a U.S. representative for Nebraska in the 1930’s, thought that getting rid of parties in our state legislature would be a good thing,” Charlyne Berens, author of “One House” and “Power to the People,” said. “Making it one house would make it a lot more accessible to people and would ensure that people’s voices were heard and their needs met.”

Members of the legislature are currently elected without a party label on the ballots, to keep a nonpartisan nature. LR2CA would reinstate party labels on all legislative races.

“What was really important about the Unicameral is that when they go to the Capitol on the first day of the session, it wasn’t Democrats in this room and Republicans in that room and whoever has the majority gets all the leadership spots,” Berens said. “What this did was keep everybody on pretty equal terms.”

At the hearing, one proponent and 10 opponents testified.

In her testimony in favor of the amendment, Jeanne Greisen compared the current legislative body to the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and expecting different results. 

“We have seen how this system works, and it no longer works for the people,” she said. “This is a great bill to change things because clearly things are not working.”

Erdman said he believes LR2CA would bring a much-needed change to the Legislature for districts such as his own.

“My district and others feel like we’re being left out of an opportunity to have a discussion,” he said. “Does this really fit our needs today as George Noris wanted? I would contend that the way we are functioning today, George Norris wouldn’t be happy about the way it’s working today.”

Berens, however, said this would give lobbyists and “party bosses”  more of a chance to sway senators, rather than their own constituents. With the institution of a bicameral, there would be minority and majority leaders. 

“In a Unicameral, because you don’t have a majority party holding all the leadership positions, you don’t have a majority leader telling everyone to line up to vote,” she said. “Lobbyists, all they would have to do is convince the party leader to do their bidding and you’re done. It’s a lot different from having to convince all the senators because there are no party leaders.”