Nebraskans are the Unicameral’s 2nd House – Make Your Voice Heard with Legislation in the New Year (2022)
by Cindy Maxwell-Ostdiek, co-Founder of the Nebraska Legislative Study Group and Independent candidate for Nebraska Legislature, representing District 4 in west Omaha
*Our Senators need to hear from everyday Nebraskans how the laws impact our lives and livelihoods.*
For 85 years now, Nebraskans have had the Unicameral Legislative Branch of our State Government. The forty-nine Senators make up the deliberative body of our Legislature, and Nebraskans are the “2nd House”. We are lucky to have this form of government for many reasons, including the requirement that every introduced bill have a public hearing.
It is our right – and duty – to help our Legislators create the best laws for our state. We must be sure the Senators understand the unique needs and values held by us.. .for our families, neighborhoods, businesses, and communities!
Some of the procedures for sharing your views on bills before the Legislature have recently changed. The announcement from Speaker Hilgers is attached below. All COVID19 accommodations have been discontinued and there are no longer any social distancing or masking requirements during public hearings. We want to highlight some of the key ways Nebraskans can be involved throughout the lawmaking process.
First, being in regular communication with your Senator and their office is one of the best ways to make sure your voice is heard. Many Legislature boundary lines changed with Redistricting this fall. Now is a good time to look up your Senator and verify which District you live in! Use this form, then make sure to call or email your Legislator to introduce yourself. Let them know your concerns and priorities:
During the lawmaking process, there are several times that it is important to lend your voice to the members of the Unicameral. The times include: when the bill is introduced and scheduled for a public hearing, when the bill is advanced to the floor for debate and possible amendments, and when the bill comes up for a vote. At any and all of these points, input from everyday Nebraskans is so vital!
The Nebraska Legislature website gives information about how to share your views with Senators. I will stress that in addition to testifying, and submitting position and online comments, we recommend you always copy/paste your views into an email that you send to: your Senator, the introducing Senator, and the Senators who are the members of the committee the bill is referred to.Yes, these are additional steps, but it will ensure the Senators do not overlook your unique concerns and priorities. Sharing your views in public forums such as social media and letters to the editor are also a good idea.
There are three formal ways to share your views with Senators about a specific Bill and each way is distributed to the Senators differently:
- In Person Testimony
- Position Comments for the Public Hearing Record
- Submission of Online Comments
In Person Testimony at a bill’s public hearing is the most effective way to share your views on a bill. The Committee Senators are able to ask you questions and the hearings are broadcast live via Nebraska Public Media. This is the only way to have your testimony written into the official transcript for the Hearing, and will be searchable on the Nebraska Legislature website.
Last year there was an additional option (offered due to COVID19) to submit Written Testimony in Lieu of Oral In-Person Testimony. This Written Testimony was treated as if someone testified in person and was entered into the official transcript of a Hearing. Unfortunately, this option was discontinued last fall a few days before the start of the Redistricting Special Session.
Position Comments for the Public Hearing Record may be submitted through the Nebraska Legislature online comment portal once a bill has been scheduled for a Hearing. To be identified as comments included as an exhibit to the official hearing record, your comments must be submitted prior to 12:00 pm on the last work day prior to the Hearing. Committee Senators will receive these comments in their packet for the Hearing. Other Senators and the public may request them as well, but they are not searchable on the Nebraska Legislature website.
Submission of Online Comments on a bill may be made at any stage in the lawmaking process, after a Hearing has been scheduled. These comments are not available to the public, but any Senator may access them as they are considering the Legislation. This option was introduced last year and some Senators made mention of them during committee hearings and during debate on the floor of the Legislature. (Online comments submitted prior to 12:00 pm on the last work day prior to the bill Hearing may be requested to be included as a Position Comment for the Public Hearing Record as noted above.)
Don’t pass up the opportunity to be involved with the crafting of Nebraska’s state Legislation. It is our right and responsibility: “The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness in the Citizen.”
Nebraska Legislature – For Citizens
Nebraska Legislature – Public Input Options
Speaker Announces 2022 Session Procedural Modifications
December 29th, 2021