At the Pachyderm luncheon on Monday this week, Unicameral Speaker John Arch gave a wrap-up of the sometimes-tumultuous 2023 session and gave a preview for legislative priorities and changes in 2024.
The unicameral had over 800 bills introduced in 2023, passing 290 of them, many in the form of “packages” (or “Christmas Trees”) to circumvent various legislative roadblocks put forth by democrats in the minority.
“The speaker has the opportunity to define what is ‘full and fair debate,'” Arch said. “Last year, I defined it as 8-4-2 meaning 8 hours on General, four hours on Select, two hours on Final. And as a result, I would say some people took advantage of that. February 10th was a fateful day, and that’s what led to the filibuster, that’s what led to our packages.”
The months-long filibuster in the Unicameral was accompanied by a few raucous protests. Some of these involved protestors dumping used tampons on legislators from the balcony, assaulting a police officer, and even smuggling a severed deer head into the capitol. Arch described the session as largely successful for conservative priorities, however. He highlighted legislation regarding certified community behavioral health clinics, criminal justice reform, water rights, voter ID, economic aid for North and South Omaha, and multiple tax cuts as examples.
After adjourning in June, Arch called for a post-mortem to determine what could be done differently in 2023. “What happened in this last session pointed out weaknesses in our rules,” Arch said. “I would not bet the farm on rules … but I would say that if after a data breach at your company, you do nothing to change your security systems, that’s unconscionable.”
Among the biggest changes will be on cloture, the rule to end debate and move on to a final vote. “I want to see last year as an anomaly, and I want to hit the reset button,” Arch said. “I want to go back to consent calendars, I want to go back to 8-4-2 [hours of debate], and provide myself with some flexibility so we don’t find ourselves back in the same situation where we were last year. And a lot of that has to do with making sure that how I determine what is full and fair debate has enough flexibility for me to say ‘we’re done.'”
The Nebraska Unicameral is unique in several ways, including the use of “priority bills” for each Senator rather than an agenda put forth by a majority party. A few priority bills Nebraskans can expect to see next year will include one from Speaker Arch to address Saint Francis Ministries, as well as the Sports and Spaces Act from Sen. Kathleen Kauth to protect women’s sports and sex-separated bathrooms.