Lawmakers convene, elect leaders

Senators gathered at the State Capitol Jan. 6 to open the first session of the 107th Nebraska Legislature.

Eight newly elected members, including three who served previously in the Legislature but left office due to term limits, were sworn in. Lawmakers also elected a new speaker and chairpersons of the Legislature’s 14 standing committees.

Senators elected Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers to serve a two-year term as speaker of the Legislature. Among other duties, the speaker prepares the Legislature’s daily agenda and serves as its presiding officer in the absence of the Lieutenant Governor.

Hilgers said he would work to strengthen the Unicameral’s process and culture to ensure that it can meet current challenges while also working toward a better future for all Nebraskans.

“You have my commitment to do everything I can to make this place run right,” he said. “And maybe if it runs right, it will unleash the creative energies and talents of every one of you, who speak for thousands of others in your communities.”

Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz unseated incumbent Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte to serve as Education Committee chairperson.

As a former teacher, school board member and parent of children who attended Nebraska schools, Walz said, she would bring a valuable perspective to the role. She said senators could expect her to listen to their views and include all voices in education policy discussions.

“Education touches on each and every aspect of our lives,” Walz said. “It is the key to strengthening our economy and providing opportunities for people who make Nebraska their home.”

Blair Sen. Ben Hansen defeated incumbent Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln to serve as chairperson of the Business and Labor Committee.

As chairperson, Hansen said, he would work to find a proper balance between free market principles and government regulation. He said his experience in business and in local government have given him firsthand knowledge of how the Legislature’s actions affect businesses and municipalities.

Lawmakers chose Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango as chairperson of the Legislature’s Executive Board, which oversees legislative services and employees.

Hughes, who was uncontested, said his six years on the board have shown him how important it is in helping the Legislature function.

“This is the highest profile institution of state government there is,” he said, “and it’s extremely important that we do our job professionally — in a timely fashion — so that we maintain that trust with the citizens of the state of Nebraska.”

Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas was re-elected as the Executive Board’s vice chairperson, fending off a challenge from Sen. Julie Slama of Peru.

Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard defeated Creighton Sen. Tim Gragert in a contest to replace Hughes as chairperson of the Natural Resources Committee.

Bostelman said he would be a fair and effective leader whose four years of experience as vice chairperson would ensure that the committee gives full consideration to each bill it hears. He said he is an outdoor enthusiast who appreciates the state’s waterways, landscapes and wildlife.

“We must preserve these resources while providing opportunities in their enjoyment and utilization,” Bostelman said.

In an uncontested race, lawmakers chose La Vista Sen. John Arch as chairperson of the Health and Human Services Committee.

Ten incumbent chairpersons were re-elected in uncontested races: Hastings Sen. Steve Halloran to the Agriculture Committee; Gering Sen. John Stinner to the Appropriations Committee; Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams to the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee; Albion Sen. Tom Briese to the General Affairs Committee; Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee; Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop to the Judiciary Committee; Seward Sen. Mark Kolterman to the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee; Elkhorn Sen. Lou Ann Linehan to the Revenue Committee; Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee; and Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne to the Urban Affairs Committee.

Lawmakers will spend the 90-day session creating a two-year state budget and redrawing legislative and other district boundaries based on population changes reflected in the 2020 U.S. Census. They also are expected to consider legislation related to pandemic recovery, the construction of a new state prison, police oversight and public school funding.

Senators may introduce new bills for the first 10 legislative days, or until Jan. 20. Gov. Pete Ricketts is scheduled to give his State of the State address Jan. 14.

Live coverage of the legislative session is provided at www.NebraskaLegislature.gov, where the public also may find information on bills, the legislative calendar and Nebraska state senators.

The session is tentatively scheduled to adjourn June 10.

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