After approving several changes, senators adopted their permanent rules Jan. 21. The rules of the Legislature govern the legislative process and generally are adopted at the beginning of each biennium.
Among the changes brought forth by the Rules Committee was a proposal introduced by Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht to ensure recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of each legislative day. The change was adopted on a 47-0 vote.
Lawmakers considered a proposal introduced by Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings that would have required public votes for election of the Speaker of the Legislature and chairpersons of all 14 standing committees.
Currently, these votes are conducted by secret ballot.
Halloran suggested that the current secret ballot process is unconstitutional.
“This amendment will align our nominating and voting rules with our oath to uphold the state constitution,” he said. “Our constitution demands transparency. Our constituents expect and deserve transparency.”
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte supported the Halloran proposal, saying a lack of transparency breeds mistrust among lawmakers.
“This secret vote causes more grief and hard feelings between senators than anything else that happens in this [Legislature],” Groene said.
Opposing the rule change was Norfolk Sen. Michael Flood. The proposal would not increase transparency, he said, but would dismantle the nonpartisan unicameral system first approved by voters in 1934. Outside pressure on senators to vote along party lines for leadership positions would not serve Nebraskans, he said.
“Public votes would contribute to a more hyper-partisan position that diminishes the minority,” Flood said. “If we want to elect the best people to run our committees, you have to be willing to have a secret ballot.”
Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams also opposed the change, calling it politically motivated.
“We don’t make public policy because it’s easy or popular, we make it because it’s right,” he said. “This rule works and has worked effectively all these years.”
The Halloran proposal was defeated on a 19-30 vote. Following adoption of several technical changes, the rules were adopted 45-0.