Legislature convenes, elects leaders

The 104th Nebraska Legislature convened at 10:00 a.m. on Jan. 7 for the 90-day first session. Seventeen new members were sworn into office and senators were elected to serve as chairpersons of the Legislature’s standing committees.

Kearney Sen. Galen Hadley defeated Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln in the race to replace outgoing speaker of the Legislature, York Sen. Greg Adams, who left the Legislature due to term limits.

Hadley said one of his priorities would be to assist new committee leaders in their work. As the former chairperson of the Revenue Committee and the Tax Modernization Committee, Hadley said he would bring vital experience to the position of speaker.

“I have an understanding of what it takes to chair a committee,” he said.

Term limits also opened up leadership positions on 10 of the Legislature’s 14 standing committees.

Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo defeated Bancroft Sen. Lydia Brasch as chairperson of the Agriculture Committee. Johnson said his 42 years of experience in agribusiness would help him meet the challenge of expanding the state’s livestock industry.

“My focus will be to build agriculture and to build Nebraska,” Johnson said.

Elected in uncontested races were: Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk to chair the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee; Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha to chair the Business and Labor Committee; Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill to chair the General Affairs Committee; Sen. John Murante of Gretna to chair the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee; Sen. Les Seiler of Hastings to chair the Judiciary Committee; Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala to chair the Natural Resources Committee; Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island to chair the Revenue Committee; Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion to chair the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee; and Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue to chair the Urban Affairs Committee.

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha held off a challenge from freshman Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha to remain chairperson of the Retirement Committee.

Nordquist said the state’s retirement plans are among the healthiest in the country due to his leadership and the good working relationships that the committee has established with various stakeholders.

“We did it the Nebraska way,” Nordquist said. “We all came to the table looking [for] and working toward solutions.”

Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha was re-elected chairperson of the Appropriations Committee in an uncontested race. Also re-elected were Sens. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids to chair the Education Committee and Kathy Campbell of Lincoln to chair the Health and Human Services Committee.

Senators also chose a new leader of the Executive Board of the Legislative Council, which oversees all legislative services and employees.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist was chosen to lead the Executive Board over Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins. Previously vice chairperson of the board, Krist said his goal as chairperson would be to focus on improving logistics and supporting legislative staff.

“I believe that I’m ready for the next step,” Krist said. “I realize and understand the significance—and appreciate the scope—of [this] position.”

Senators will reconvene Jan. 8 at 10:00 a.m. to begin introduction of new bills. The session is tentatively scheduled to adjourn June 5.

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