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By Forrest Hershberger
Publisher Sidney Sun-Telegraph 

The Unicameral Process Explained

 

September 23, 2020

How does a bill become law in the state of Nebraska? What is the process for a citizen to be heard in the Legislature?

A public meeting was held Thursday, Sept. 17, at Sidney High School's Performing Arts Center by the Nebraskans For Founders' Values to explain the process of government in Nebraska.

The program was led by Mark Bonkiewicz, executive director of NFFV. The objective of the meeting was to explain the unicameral government process.

Before the discussion started, Bonkiewicz stressed the importance of being involved in the government process. He said about 13 percent of people are making decisions for each election, and an estimated 50 percent of Christians are registered to vote.

“How did we get here,” he said the audience. “I'm 60, almost 70 years old. I never thought I would see anarchy in 13 of our major cities,” Bonkiewicz said.

He said part of the problem is the changing values in society.

“For those of us who are Christians, we know when you take absolute morality out, all you have is relative morality,” he said.

Sen. Steve Erdman was present to explain the Legislative process.

“This year, the odd-numbered seats are elected. So this year I'm up for election,” Erdman said.

Next year, the even-numbered seats are on the ballot, he said.

Most Legislative Bills are written during the interim, between June and November. Senate elections are held in November for half of the members. Caucuses by congressional district are held in December. Committee Chairs are voted in on the first day of the Legislative Session. The Committee On Committees meets and decides who serves on what committees. Erdman said committees are selected by secret ballot.

“This is a problem for me,” he said. “I didn't go there for secret votes.”

He said Bills start with constituents.

“That's where the good bills start,” he added.

A Bill has one to 10 days only to be introduced.

The ideal time for citizen influence on a Bill, such as by submitted letters or by testimony, is while the Bill is in Committee,. He said when writing a letter to a legislator, keep it short and personal; avoid form letters.

"If you send me an email, make it brief," he said.

He added it is important to make your information accurate.

“Every bill gets a hearing,” he said.

During an executive session, the meeting is open to the press, but not to the public.

In the final reading of a bill, legislators must stay in their seats; networking is not permitted at this time. The final reading has three options: yes, no, present not voting. Thirty-five votes are needed to filibuster a bill, and at least 25 votes to pass. After the final reading, the governor has five days to decide if he will veto it, sign it or decline it. If he signs it, the Bill goes into law 90 days later. A veto can be sustained, or overturned by veto override.

"Nebraska's legislature is unique among all state legislatures in the nation because it has a single house. It wasn't always a unicameral, however. The state had a senate and a house of representatives for 68 years before Nebraskans voted to get rid of half of their state legislature in 1934. The change had not come easily. Rep. J.N. Norton of Osceola was the first to consistently advocate for a unicameral legislature in Nebraska. But Nebraskans rejected his and similar proposals several times before interest in reining in state spending peaked during the Great Depression.,” as written in “A Look at Your Unicameral,” annual publication of the Nebraska Legislative Council.

There are 49 state senators in Nebraska, each with a 35,000 voter district.

Erdman said the State's tax structure is one of the biggest issues.

"We are taxed to death in this state," he said. "We have a broken tax system. We need to restructure our tax system."

He is proposing a flat consumption tax that is imposed on new purchases, not on repeat purchases. He said the goal is not to take money away from local schools and municipalities, but to design a fair taxing system.

"We gotta get the spending under control, and we gotta make taxes more fair," he said.

Erdman said he was once asked if he enjoys being a senator. He said he enjoys helping people.

 

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