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Some lessons from the 105th Legislature

The state Legislature adjourned sine die (with no further day appointed for business) on April 18. This means it will not reconvene until early January for the 106th Legislature, at which point we will see a new batch of senators after November elections. The only exception for reconvening would be a special session, which is rare.
 
Over the last two years, which made up the 105th Legislature, the Legislature conducted a fair amount of business. During the 2018 legislative session alone, senators introduced 469 bills and passed 156 of them. This was all despite the fact that many – senators, journalists, lobbyists, etc. – claimed that there were deep divides within the legislative body that stifled numerous legislative efforts. While some lamented these divisions, others lauded them as healthy factions. Regardless of one’s view on the matter, it is safe to say that legislators came together to conduct the state’s business and work toward the common good on most legislative bills that became law.
 
With all this in mind, the end of session provides a moment for reflection and remarks. 
 
PRAY, PRAY, PRAY
Prayer is essential to every aspect of our life – politics is no exception to the rule. All those involved in the work of creating public policy – whether they are elected representatives, legislative staff, lobbyists or constituents – must rely on prayer for proper discernment in seeking to do good and to avoid evil. 
 
Prayer places us in a position of humility before God. One who is humble finds oneself in the position of a beggar before God. As Msgr. Luigi Giussani once said, “The real protagonist of history is the beggar: Christ who begs for man’s heart, and man’s heart that begs for Christ.” It is the beggar who can best beseech the God of the Universe for the blessings that are fundamental to good governance. Humility allows us to “trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding” (Prov 3:5). Humility allows the light of Christ to shed light on that which is best for the common good.
 
But if humanity cannot humble itself before God, nothing will be left for a nation but the great saying: Pride goes before the fall.
 
Prayer also fortifies those who are truly pursuing God’s work in government. It is unquestionable that spiritual warfare occurs in the legislative chambers – battles between good and evil – on any number of issues (for example, abortion, marriage and family, human sexuality, religious liberty, education, poverty). Prayer helps bring the light of Christ into the darkness and exposes evil for what it is, so that the good may prevail.
 
CATHOLIC PRESENCE MATTERS
There were numerous times throughout the legislative session when the presence of Catholics at the state Capitol had an important influence on the legislative process. Notably, presence should be interpreted broadly, and is not necessarily restricted to physical presence. Catholics had a tremendous influence by making phone calls, writing letters, sending emails, signing petitions, and attending events like Catholics at the Capitol, and the Pro-Life Mass and Nebraska Walk for Life, among other activities. 
 
Legislators recognize who shows up and why they show up. When Catholics present themselves to their elected officials, they can educate their senators and impress upon them why they should or should not take a particular action on legislation. This can help galvanize a senator’s support or opposition on a matter, convince an otherwise waffling senator, or simply provide additional perspective on a matter that a senator may not otherwise have had from constituents. 
 
ALWAYS ASK WHY
In an age where marketing is king, we reduce so many actions to slogans and pithy responses. But it is important to ask critical, probing questions of your elected officials, in pursuit of the truth. Elected officials, like so many of us, all too often hide behind platitudes or labels to appease as many people as possible. But constituents deserve clear and detailed responses from their senators. 
 
While there were many other lessons learned during the legislative session, these few lessons should be constantly remembered. Remember: “The salvation of the state is watchfulness in the citizen.” Be vigilant. 
 
Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at tvenzor@necatholic.

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