A total of 58 changes to the permanent rules were proposed to the Legislature this year, which led to more than 100 testifiers speaking during a marathon nine-hour Rules Committee hearing last week.
The process was one several lawmakers described as unprecedented, both in the number of rules changes offered, the recommendations for changes, as well as the feedback received from Nebraskans.
But in the end, the Legislature adopted eight changes on Thursday in a floor debate that lasted a little more than two hours and avoided the rules proposals considered more controversial that were put forward this year.
A proposal spearheaded by former GOP gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster and signed by more than two dozen senators to change the selection of committee chairs from a secret ballot to a recorded vote did not advance to the floor.
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Neither did a proposal to close committee executive sessions to members of the media, who have been able to cover the discussions of senators behind closed doors for nearly 90 years.
Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, the chair of the Rules Committee, said those measures may be brought back for consideration later in the session.
Erdman said the Rules Committee wanted to put forward a package that would allow the Legislature to get on with its work and avoid a prolonged fight, referring to a 2017 debate that lasted months.
Most of the tweaks accepted this year were technical: allowing the Clerk of Legislature to note that charts or graphs were included in legislation rather than print them in the daily journal, clarifying the dates when priority bills could be designated, and adding a link to an appendix outlining the committee process to the online version of the rule book.
One rule change, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, eliminated language prohibiting “the use of any mobile, portable, or wireless communication device that emits an audible signal” from being used in the legislative chamber while business was being conducted.
Hunt said the rule was adopted in the 1990s during the advent of the beeper. It's become obsolete and isn't observed by most state senators who carry cellphones into the chamber.
The most-debated proposal on Tuesday came from Sen. Teresa Ibach of Sumner, who proposed eliminating the ability to move to indefinitely postpone a bill before it comes up for first-round debate.
Commonly known as an IPP or kill motion, the Rules Committee instead advanced a rule that changed the order in which the motion would be considered during floor debate that would allow the bill’s introducer to speak before the kill motion is taken up by the Legislature.
Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh opposed the rule change and introduced a motion to return it to the Rules Committee for further consideration, saying any change to the kill motion undermined the toolkit available to all 49 senators.
Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair, a member of the Rules Committee, said changing the speaking order made sense, however, because it would allow any amendments to be added to the bill first, which could change how a senator voted on the bill as well as the motion to kill it.
Other senators, often those in the politically minority in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, said while they weren’t thrilled with the change of how a kill motion would be taken up during debate they understood the proposal before them was a compromise.
Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad said it was part of the “compromise, consensus and common ground” Nebraskans expect their lawmakers to find at the Capitol.
She and Hunt also said senators should expect that there will be debate on any controversial bills, and that an opponent using a kill motion was using one tool in order to look for more changes to legislation.
“I don’t think utilization of the rules is rude, I don’t think it’s out of bounds,” Conrad said. “It’s what we are here to do, it is what we ran to do — to debate the issues great and small.”
Cavanaugh later withdrew her motion to return the rule change to committee, and the rule was adopted on a 46-2 vote.
The second-term Omaha senator later introduced a rule on the floor prohibiting deadly weapons from being carried in the Capitol or on the grounds, saying it would allow the Nebraska State Patrol to better ensure the security of everyone in the building.
The proposal originated from a 2021 incident in which testifiers carried guns into a Judiciary Committee hearing room to support a bill they said clarified a person’s right to defend themselves in their homes, workplaces or vehicles.
The proposal drew opposition from Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar, who said she was worried about the scope of what could be considered a deadly weapon, and Sen. John Lowe of Kearney, who said a pen or a comb could be deemed a weapon.
Lincoln Sen. Jane Raybould said courthouses, schools and other public buildings across the state don’t allow Nebraskans to bring weapons inside, and said the appearance of guns could make testifiers or legislative staff members feel unsafe at the Capitol.
But Sen. Tom Brewer or Gordon said any measure to ban guns from the Capitol would be met by anger from many Nebraskans, adding many of the individuals who back his bill (LB77) to remove requirements that gun owners obtain a permit would be in the building next week during the bill hearing.
Cavanaugh’s proposal ultimately failed on a 7-32 vote. She has introduced a bill (LB749) this year that would do the same thing.
The only other change made by the Legislature on a 44-0 vote was in support of a proposal by Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell to allow military service members to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the invitation of individual senators.
With no other proposals brought forward, the Legislature unanimously adopted the permanent rules — what several lawmakers described as an anticlimactic end to what was expected to be an explosive debate.
After the debate, Conrad said she was hopeful that many of the rules proposing to inject partisanship and erode norms were not considered, calling it a good sign for the strength of the institution and the session to come.
Lawmakers will check in on Friday, Day 12 of the 90-day session, but will not hold debate or committee hearings.
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