The second session of the 102nd Legislature adjourned early evening April 18 after narrowly overriding gubernatorial vetoes of bills authorizing local-option sales taxes and establishing a prenatal program for low-income women. Two other vetoes – authorizing historic horse racing and school-based health centers – were sustained.
This year marked the 75th anniversary of the state’s first unicameral legislative session. As is customary, senators serving their last session were asked to speak about the experience of serving in the Nebraska Unicameral. Nine senators are leaving the Legislature due to term limits, among them Norfolk Sen. Mike Flood, who has served as speaker since 2006.
Flood acknowledged the contentious nature of the issues lawmakers grappled with on the final day of the session.
“I really like soft landings for legislative sessions,” he said. “On this one we foamed the runway – but any landing you walk away from is a good landing.”
Calling the session “exceptional,” Flood applauded senators for providing tax relief to citizens while funding several University of Nebraska projects, including a veterinary diagnostic center and a cancer center in Omaha.
“We delivered a budget that is reasonable and balanced,” he said.
Flood also praised fellow lawmakers for adhering to the principles of nonpartisanship and cooperation that he said were essential to addressing the issues contained in the 247 bills passed this session.
“I feel like we addressed the state’s priorities, and we did it in a way that respects each other and our people,” Flood said.
Chairpersons of several key legislative committees are among the term-limited senators ending their service in the Legislature this year.
Bellevue Sen. Abbie Cornett was elected chairperson of the Business and Labor Committee in 2006 and became chairperson of the Revenue Committee in 2008. She said one learns quickly as a lawmaker that Nebraska is more diverse than it appears. Chairing the Revenue Committee brought contact with a wide range of citizens, she said, and taught her that decisions made at the Capitol impact the entire state.
“Nebraska doesn’t end at the metro area borders,” she said.
Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine echoed that sentiment. Chairperson of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee since 2006, Fischer said the gravity of the impact senators have was clear to her when she saw her name on the voting board for the first time.
“All of the sudden it hits you,” Fischer said. “Every time you vote it affects someone’s life in the state.”
She encouraged fellow senators to bear in mind the far-reaching impact of their work.
“We’re sometimes parochial in serving our districts,” she said, “but I challenge each of you to look at the broader picture, to look at the state as a whole.”
Elk Creek Sen. Lavon Heidemann, who served as chairperson of the Appropriations Committee since 2006, was succinct in summing up his legislative career.
“It’s been a good trip for a southeast Nebraska farm boy,” he said.
Heidemann also said he wasn’t concerned about the experience that the 2004 class of senators take with them as they depart.
“You’ll be fine,” he said. “I’m convinced that there are a lot of good people left here to take our places.”
Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler agreed, noting the importance of long-serving staff in the Legislature. Chairperson of the Natural Resources Committee since 2008, Langemeier said staff members are key to a successful committee.
“The reality is that we couldn’t do this job without the people in this building,” he said.
Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee chairperson Rich Pahls of Boys Town said his background as a school administrator was helpful when he took over the committee in 2006. Managing a school and managing a committee are similar tasks, he said.
“We’re all kids at heart,” Pahls said. “We just happen to be taller.”
Omaha Sen. Gwen Howard, also elected in 2004, focused her time in the Legislature on the state’s child welfare system. She encouraged fellow senators to maintain oversight of health and human service provision in the state.
“I ask you to be vigilant and to continue your compassion,” she said.
Calling himself “just a cowboy from the Sandhills,” Sen. LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth said he was proud of his legislative efforts on behalf of economic development in rural Nebraska. In spite of his achievements, Louden said he was eager to return to the family ranch.
“I look forward to corralling cattle instead of votes,” he said.
Departing senators spoke of the sacrifice made by their families that allowed them to serve, and Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton was no exception. Appointed to the Legislature in 2007, Fulton said senators spend a great deal of time at the Capitol, missing valuable hours with their families.
When constituents offer to pray for him, Fulton said, he asks them to include his wife. “She is just as much a servant of the people of Nebraska as I am,” he said.
In his closing remarks, Flood said he also looks forward to having more time to spend with his wife and young children.
“Something really good is about to happen in my life,” he said.
The first session of the 103rd Legislature is scheduled to convene Jan. 9, 2013.