Speaker John Arch addresses the legislative chamber from his seat on the legislative floor.
Speaker John Arch of La Vista addresses his colleagues after the Legislature voted to adopt its permanent rules on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Nebraska News Service Photo/Zach Wendling)

In the third week of the Nebraska Legislature’s 2023 session, state senators approved the session’s permanent rules and considered a motion that could have ended the Legislature at a fraction of its 90-day session.

Senators introduced 348 bills and five resolutions or constitutional amendments during the third week. Gov. Jim Pillen also unveiled his tax and education priorities, which included respective legislation. Pillen unveiled those budget recommendations — introduced by Speaker John Arch of La Vista — on Wednesday, Jan. 25, during his State of the State address.

Sine Die motion

Two bills that would change gender-altering procedures and school sports and spaces were introduced on Jan. 17, leading to a decision of whether the Legislature should continue past day nine of the session. 

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State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln speaks on the floor of the Legislature during rules debate on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Nebraska News Service Photo/Zach Wendling)

The motion offered by State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln to adjourn Sine Die — without a date of returning — failed 33-7, but not without sending a clear message: controversial issues may define the 2023 Legislature.

The bills from State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha — the “Let Them Grow Act” (LB574) and “Sports and Spaces Act” (LB575).

The first would prohibit medical professionals from performing or referring minors for gender altering procedures. The second would define school bathroom, locker room and sports teams as male or female according to students’ assigned sex at birth.

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State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha works on her laptop from the legislative floor on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Nebraska News Service Photo/Zach Wendling)

While Conrad said her motion was like a “red flag,” State Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar said the effort was more of a “white flag” and that liberals in the Legislature were giving up.

Had the motion been successful, Gov. Jim Pillen could — and almost certainly would have — called the Legislature back, especially with the Legislature not passing a budget as it is required to by law.

Read more on the effort and how social or cultural issues may define the Legislature moving forward.

Rules adopted

Observers looked to the Legislature’s debate over 2023 session rules with anticipation and unease, notably with forming a political action committee to change those rules.

Efforts by Charles W. Herbster and his Nebraska First PAC aimed to open up committee votes in the Legislature to be open — not by secret ballot — and garnered the support of more than a dozen senators. 

But those efforts and others ultimately fizzled out on Thursday, Jan. 19, with only a nod of what could come and a promise like Arnold Schwarzenegger to return potentially later in the session.

Those rules recommended by the Rules Committee included:

  • Making legislative journal entries that include incompatible contents (like tables or graphics) available in the Clerk’s office;
  • Designating a deadline and clarifying a process for priority bill designation;
  • Making available recommended committee rules online;
  • Requiring public notice of at least three days for Rules Committee hearings;
  • Clarifying the use of mobile devices on the legislative floor; and
  • Allowing the principal introducer of a bill to open before the introducer of an indefinitely postpone motion (also known as an “IPP” or “kill” motion).
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State Sen. Jane Raybould of Lincoln flips through her copy of the Legislature’s temporary rules during debate on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Nebraska News Service Photo/Zach Wendling)

State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha attempted to add two rule changes. One would prohibit firearms or deadly weapons from the Capitol except for select people like law enforcement, military or historical reenactments. The other would have made committee briefings available in the legislative transcript.

State Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha amended the rules to allow those who served in the active military, naval, air or space service or who are active or reserve military to lead the Legislature’s daily Pledge of Allegiance.

McDonnell’s rules change as well as the permanent rules overall were adopted 44-0 (two senators present and not voting, three excused and not voting).

Upcoming at the Legislature

The Legislature is transitioning to more than a month of committee hearings after nine days of bill introductions and the approval of committee assignments and permanent rules.

  • The week of Jan. 23-27, committee hearings will be in the afternoon, most at 1:30 p.m.
  • Between Jan. 30 and Feb. 10, committee hearings will be in the morning and afternoon. 
  • Debate on legislation will begin Feb. 13.
  • Gov. Jim Pillen will give his State of the State Address at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 25.
  • Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Heavican will give his annual State of the Judiciary Address at 10 a.m. Feb. 21.

A schedule of committee assignments can be found on the Legislative Calendar.

Week three bill introductions

Here is a sample of the 348 bills and five resolutions introduced during the third week, bringing the total after ten legislative days to 812 bills and 31 resolutions (though four bills were later withdrawn). Only Gov. Jim Pillen’s budget recommendations — to be introduced by Speaker John Arch of La Vista — remain, though ceremonial resolutions can still be introduced.

The full list of introduced legislation can be found here.

LB487 by State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha would prohibit any Nebraska school receiving public funds from discriminating based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, citizen status, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or special education status.

LB752 by State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha would prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability or age in employment by any entity that receives state funding.

LB521 by State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont would provide immunity for school personnel who administer naloxone, which is used to reverse or reduce the effects of opioids. LB795 by State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha would provide immunity for naloxone and other federally approved opioid antagonists, expanding the definition in state law.

LB535 by State Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar would set the guidelines for Nebraska’s approved voter ID requirement. The bill would require photographic ID issued by the state of Nebraska or United States. Individuals who could not be photographed due to religious objections could present a signed affidavit in addition to an ID with their name.

LB549 by State Sen. Beau Ballard of Lincoln would change the age of adulthood for certain health care, power of attorney and financial documents from 19 to 18 years of age.

LB574 by State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha and 22 others would prohibit medical professionals from performing or referring minors for gender-altering procedures.

LB575 also by Kauth and 27 others would define educational bathrooms, locker rooms and sports teams as male or female and set restrictions based on biological sex.

LB588 by State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln would set policies and procedures and legalize medicinal cannabis.

LB606 by State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston would provide tax credits for individuals who donate to pregnancy help centers in the state.

LB626 also by Albrecht and 28 others would adopt the Nebraska Heartbeat Act and restrict abortion from about 20 to six weeks, when a “fetal heartbeat” could be detected.

LB715 by State Sen. John Cavanaugh of Omaha would require Gov. Jim Pillen to apply for emergency rental assistance from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The Legislature approved similar legislation in 2022 but then-Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the legislation and senators were unable to override it by one vote.

LB749 by State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha would prohibit the possession of deadly weapons in the Nebraska State Capitol or on its grounds.

LB810 by State Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil and 13 others would adopt the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act, a bill that would allow medical providers to refuse to provide a service if they have a moral, ethical or religious objection. Murman introduced a similar bill in 2022 that stalled in committee; the updated bill addresses multiple areas the senator identified at that hearing.

LR27CA by State Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha would create a Board of Commutation to aid the state’s Board of Pardons and change the membership of and provisions relating to the Board of Pardons.

LR28CA and LR29CA by State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn would, respectively, reduce the membership of the State Board of Education from eight to seven, appointed by the governor, and restrict members to two consecutive terms.

Zach Wendling is a senior journalism and political science double major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln focused on political, policy and governance reporting. He is the spring 2023 intern for the Nebraska Examiner and has been published in publications across the state as part of the Nebraska News Service. Wendling interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C. and worked for The Daily Nebraskan at UNL. He is one of the founding members and inaugural president of UNL's new campus chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.