Legislature convenes, elects leaders

The 103rd Nebraska Legislature convened at 10:00 a.m. Jan. 9 for its 90-day first session. Eleven new members were sworn into office and senators were elected to serve as chairpersons of the Legislature’s standing committees.

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York Sen. Greg Adams was uncontested in his bid to replace outgoing Speaker of the Legislature, Norfolk Sen. Mike Flood, who left office due to term limits.

Adams said he was humbled to follow in the footsteps of previous speakers and that he would bring no agenda to the position other than a desire to assist fellow senators in doing their job to the best of their ability.

“I have an agenda of fairness above all else, of making good policy,” Adams said. “And an agenda for protecting and promulgating the integrity and the culture and the history of this institution.”

Term limits also opened up leadership positions in six of the Legislature’s 14 standing committees. Omaha Sen. Heath Mello was chosen to lead the Appropriations Committee over North Platte Sen. Tom Hansen.

Mello said his goal as chairperson will be to ensure a fair, consensus-driven budget process as the Legislature faces issues regarding a possible Medicaid expansion, water policy and rebuilding the state’s cash reserve.

“Consensus is needed now more than ever,” Mello said.

Holdrege Sen. Tom Carlson defeated Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial in the race to chair the Natural Resources Committee. Carlson cited protection of the state’s Ogallala Aquifer as one of the top priorities for the committee, calling water the “lifeblood” of Nebraska agriculture.

Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton was chosen over Sen. Scott Price of Bellevue to lead the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. Dubas said her established working relationships with various state agencies would help the committee advance Nebraska’s infrastructure needs.

“We will work to map out statewide policy for the short- and long-term infrastructure needs of our state,” she said.

Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala ran unopposed to lead the Agriculture Committee. Also elected in uncontested races were: Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island to chair the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee; Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids to chair the Education Committee; and Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney to chair the Revenue Committee.

Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop was re-elected chairperson of the Business and Labor Committee.

Also re-elected were: Wilber Sen. Russ Karpisek as chairperson of the General Affairs Committee; Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery as chairperson of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee; Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell as chairperson of the Health and Human Services Committee; Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford as chairperson of the Judiciary Committee; Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist as chairperson of the Retirement Systems Committee; and Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill as chairperson of the Urban Affairs Committee.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha returned to the Legislature this session. After serving 38 years in the Unicameral, Chambers left the Legislature in 2008 due to term limits. He was eligible to run again in 2012 and was re-elected to represent District 11 in Omaha.

Other new members sworn in were Sens. Kate Bolz of Lincoln; Sue Crawford of Omaha; Al Davis of Hyannis; Sara Howard of Omaha; Jerry Johnson of Wahoo; Bill Kintner of Papillion; Ron Kolowski of Omaha; John Murante of Gretna; Jim Scheer of Norfolk; and Dan Watermeier of Syracuse.

Senators will reconvene Jan. 10 to begin introduction of new bills. The session is tentatively scheduled to adjourn June 5.

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