The Nebraska State Capitol pictured at sunset on Feb. 17, 2022.
The Nebraska State Capitol pictured at sunset on Feb. 17, 2022. Photo by Zach Wendling/NNS.

Nebraska lawmakers on Friday, Nov. 18, suggested drafting a formal code of conduct after a state senator resigned earlier this year due to misconduct allegations.

State Sens. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln and Wendy DeBoer of Bennington unveiled the proposal, among other “tentative recommendations,” during a meeting of the Legislative Council in Nebraska City.

State Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte resigned in February after a staffer alleged the senator took inappropriate photos of her without her knowledge. Groene acknowledged taking photos but later said he “did nothing wrong, nothing illegal” and regretted resigning.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, Hilgers said a code of conduct would lay out behavioral expectations for all legislative employees, including lawmakers. Other state legislatures have such codes in place already.

Read more here from the Omaha World-Herald’s Erin Bamer.

Flatwater Free Press forum examines Nebraska prisons

The Flatwater Free Press, with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, hosted a forum on Wednesday, Nov. 16, titled “Nebraska’s prisons at a crossroads.”

Panelists who have been or worked in Nebraska’s prison system addressed problems with the state’s correctional system being overcrowded and understaffed.

Multiple panelists, according to the Nebraska News Service, pointed to Nebraska prisons surpassing Alabama to become the nation’s most overcrowded, operating at 151% of their capacity.

Read more here from the Nebraska News Service’s Owen Reimer.

Final ballots counted in Douglas, Lancaster counties boost key legislative candidates

The final provisional ballots from Douglas and Lancaster counties, which include Omaha and Lincoln, have pushed two key legislative candidates over the finish line.

John Fredrickson of Omaha and George Dungan of Lincoln will succeed respective State Sens. John McCollister and Matt Hansen, who were prevented from running for reelection due to term limits. 

The Nebraska Legislature is officially nonpartisan and senators usually do not vote along party lines, but the races can determine the future trajectory of the body.

The margin between Republicans and Democrats will remain the same in the new year: 32 to 17.

Read more here from the Nebraska Examiner’s Aaron Sanderford.

Legislature required to draft voter ID legislation in next session

Nebraska voters approved a ballot initiative to amend the Nebraska Constitution to require valid photo identification to vote in future elections. It will be up to state lawmakers in the new year what those details will be.

State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon told the Nebraska Examiner the legislation will not be easy, though he is bound to a mission: “To make sure nobody is left out, that we allow everyone the privilege of voting.”

Brewer chairs the Nebraska Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, which is where proposed voter ID legislation will likely be referred to. 

Opponents like the ACLU of Nebraska are also gearing up for the new year, and Brewer acknowledged many unknowns at this time.

Read more here from the Nebraska Examiner’s Cindy Gonzalez, including a sample of similar laws in other states.

Biden administration goes to Supreme Court for next steps on student debt relief

The Department of Justice on Friday, Nov. 18, urged the Supreme Court to lift a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit that blocked President Joe Biden’s student loan relief program.

Earlier in the week, a three-judge panel on the 8th Circuit unanimously halted Biden’s relief plan, which was already blocked nationwide by a separate court ruling. Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and South Carolina — each Republican-led — brought the lawsuit the panel ruled on.

Read more here from The Hill’s John Kruzel and Lexi Lonas and States Newsroom reporter Ariana Figueroa.

Bacon speaks on future of House leadership as Republicans win control

Republicans on Wednesday, Nov. 16, secured at least 218 seats to control the U.S. House of Representatives, but with a slim majority, Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon has waded into the waters on who the next House speaker could be.

California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, current Republican minority leader, is seen as the frontrunner for the speakership and won his bid to become House speaker from his caucus members.

Bacon, a Republican entering his fourth term, said on Monday, Nov. 14, he would work with Democrats to find a moderate alternative if McCarthy does not get 218 votes to be the speaker. Doing so, Bacon said, would prevent total gridlock and allow governance.

As of Sunday, Nov. 20, all but five seats in the 435-seat House had been projected for Republicans or Democrats, according to The New York Times. Republicans secured 218 seats, and are leading in four uncalled races, while Democrats have secured 212 seats and lead in one uncalled race.

Read more here from States Newsroom reporter Jacob Fischler and the Omaha World-Herald’s Molly Ashford.

Looking ahead
  • The Nebraska Legislature’s Urban Affairs and Nebraska Retirement Systems committees will host four hearings on Monday, Nov. 21, and Tuesday, Nov. 22.
    • The Urban Affairs Committee will meet on Monday, Nov. 21, at 1:30 p.m. in the Nebraska State Capitol, Room 1510. Two interim studies will be considered: LR348, “to review the occupational regulations for master plumbers,” and LR413, “to evaluate the potential transition to a statewide professional license for heating, ventilation and air conditioning techniques.”
    • The Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee will meet three times on Tuesday, Nov. 22, on three separate issues in the Nebraska State Capitol, Room 1525. The three hearings will be at 9 a.m. on LR294, “to examine the public employees’ retirement systems administered by the Public Employees Retirement Board”; 10:30 a.m. for a presentation by the Nebraska Auditor of Public Accounts on the Omaha School Employment Retirement System; and at 1:30 p.m. on LR295, “to monitor underfunded defined benefit plans administered by political subdivisions.”
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.