Nebraska Legislature

Commentary

FAITHFUL, WATCHFUL CITIZENS: One Month Away

We are now one month out from Election Day and one month away from Nebraska’s 108th Legislature, First Session. While one may reasonably think that this period between the elections and the beginning of the state legislative session is a calm and quiet time, this is far from reality. So, what’s going on right now as the state prepares for another legislative session?

The “Deck is Set.” I often speak about elections as “setting the deck.” Once candidates for public office are officially elected to office, you quickly find out what kind of “hand you’ve been dealt” and whether that hand amounts to a winning hand or something short of that.

For the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), we do not and cannot get involved in the endorsement of candidates (whether to oppose or support certain candidates or political parties). Endorsing candidates is both contrary to the nature, mission, and law of the Church and also against the law for 501(c)(3) non-profit corporations, which is how Catholic dioceses, parishes, and schools legally function in the United States.

This is all to say that the NCC doesn’t have a hand in “setting the deck.” We take the cards that are dealt to us, and we play them as best as we can. And, because the NCC gets involved in a variety of issues A through Z, it is nearly always the case that the elections mean good things for some of our issues and bad things for some of our other issues. In either case, it is appropriate to quote J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gandalf: “The board is set, the pieces are moving.”

Impact on “The Issues.” The way state legislative elections panned out may bode well for pro-life, school choice, religious liberty, and medical conscience rights issues. It appears that for each of these issues, there is a viable and possibly strong path to 33 votes (which is the number of votes needed to overcome inevitable filibusters by the opposition on these issues).

The opposite is likely the case for issues like poverty assistance, immigration, housing assistance, and the death penalty. In the previous couple of legislatures, the makeup of the body provided opportunities to pass legislation to help, for example, DACA and DREAMers, those needing additional housing and rent assistance, and the working poor in need of further benefits assistance.

Jockeying for Position. Also taking place during this “interim” period between Election Day and the first day of the legislative session is the jockeying of senators for positions of leadership and positions on legislative committees.

Before Election Day, there was plenty of conjecturing and hypothesizing about who might be in the body and what that might mean. But now things are real. Once the “vote count” and legislative makeup are determined through Election Day, senators know for certain who will belong to next year’s legislative session.

For the last month, senators have been submitting letters to run for leadership positions in the legislature, such as speaker of the legislature and chair of legislative committees. Additionally, senators have been working to develop game plans for who will sit on which committees. All of this is part of the overall attempt to establish and gain as much political power as possible given the results of the election.

Notably, legislative leadership and committee makeup won’t be finally determined until the opening days of the legislative session in January.

Preparing Legislation. Another key activity taking place during this “interim” period is increased efforts by legislators, the governor, lobbyists, special interest groups, governmental agencies, etc., to craft legislation.

While plenty of work to draft legislation was already happening in the summer and fall months, this work has increased a hundredfold since Election Day. This includes everything from taking concepts and ideas and writing draft legislation to finding a senator to be the key introducer of legislation and gathering co-sponsorship from other senators.

All of this is to say that anybody who works closely with the legislature has their work cut out for them in these days preceding legislative session. While January will have many of us “hitting the ground running,” for many others, January will be a key moment in what has otherwise been a busy last several months.

As always, pray for the upcoming 108th Nebraska Legislature—that they will give glory to God in all of their work.

Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference. Email him at tvenzor@necatholic.org.