Nebraska Legislature Opens 2023 Session

Fred Knapp/NE Public Media

     The Nebraska Legislature opened its 90-day 2023 session Wednesday morning as newly-elected senators were sworn in and legislative leaders selected.

   The unanimous pick for speaker was Omaha-area Senator John Arch of La Vista, who follows Mike Hilgers, the state’s new Attorney General.

A hospital administrator in his second term in the legislature and chair of the Health and Human Services Committee last session, Arch said he has the ability to manage complex relationships and processes..

      He pledged to foster a healthy culture, starting with communication and listening, telling his colleagues “misunderstandings are the result of poor or lack of communication – talking about each other instead of talking to each other” and leading to unnecessary conflict.

    Arch said senators need to emphasize their shared desire for positive outcomes for Nebraskans rather than focus on their differences, adding “we have a starting point for healthy relationships if we don’t forget our agreement on the ultimate goals.”

   Governor-elect Jim Pillen congratulated Arch, saying he looks forward to working with him and the rest of the legislature in passing a fiscally conservative budget and bills to cut taxes, grow the economy, and protect, train, and keep graduates in Nebraska.

     A showdown had been expected on voting for committee chairs by secret ballot, but instead temporary rules were adopted without debate that keep secret ballots.The state Republican party and many of the legislature’s majority Republicans have pushed for open votes for years, saying transparency is needed.

     Opponents warn that moving from secret ballots would allow party leaders to strong-arm members to vote along party lines rather than for the best candidate, further politicizing the officially nonpartisan Unicameral.

     Debate on the issue is expected when permanent rules for the 2025-27 sessions are adopted. New Rules Committee chair Steve Erdman of Bayard wants proposals by Friday and the permanent rules adopted by the 20th, the 12th day of the session.

       Erdman says he has the 28 votes needed to end the secret ballots, but a filibuster is virtually guaranteed and unlike bills, there is no cloture motion allowed to cut off debate on proposed rules changes.

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