Legislature convenes, elects leaders

The 106th Nebraska Legislature convened Jan. 9 for its 90-day first session. Thirteen new members and 13 re-elected senators were sworn into office, and lawmakers elected chairpersons of the Legislature’s standing committees.

Norfolk Sen. Jim Scheer was re-elected speaker of the Legislature in an uncontested race. Scheer told lawmakers that he would continue to act with fairness and consistency during his second two-year term as speaker.

“I will always remember—and have remembered—that you are electing me to serve you,” he said. “I do so with humility and integrity.”

Lawmakers chose Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers over Sen. Kate Bolz, also of Lincoln, to lead the Executive Board, which oversees legislative services and employees. Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha was elected vice-chairperson.

Hilgers said his 15 years’ experience as a lawyer would help him defend the Legislature’s interests in current and future legal battles.

“I will fight as the [executive] board chair to protect the powers of this body and institution,” he said.

Term limits opened leadership positions in three of the Legislature’s 14 standing committees, and two other sitting chairpersons lost bids for re-election last fall. Another vacated his seat after being elected to another office.

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn defeated Omaha Sen. Brett Lindstrom in a race to lead the Revenue Committee. Linehan said she will focus on reducing property taxes on farmers, businesses and homeowners and ensure that the state’s tax system works for all sectors.

“We want to encourage young people, retirees, veterans and businesses to stay and grow in Nebraska,” she said. “We also must fund the essential services that our citizens need and deserve and expect.”

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte remains chairperson of the Education Committee after fending off a challenge from Omaha Sen. Rick Kolowski. Groene said he will introduce legislation this session that is the work of an informal group of senators who met last interim with the goal of reducing the state school aid formula’s reliance on property taxes.

“It is time for this body to fulfill the promise of our state constitution that the Legislature shall provide for the free instruction in the common schools of this state,” he said. “We can no longer pass the majority of that duty off to the overburdened property taxpayers of Nebraska.”

Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen unseated Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston to lead the Business and Labor Committee. Hansen told lawmakers that he would be open, fair and helpful.

“I believe a proposed bill can only receive true discussion and debate when senators feel comfortable with the fairness of the process … and that a final vote is representative of how well they have or have not proven their case to the committee,” he said.

Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, who defeated Bellevue Sen. Carol Blood in the race to lead the General Affairs Committee, also said he would run an open and transparent committee that treats everyone with fairness and respect. As the committee’s leader, Briese said he will promote legislation to help grow the state’s economy while protecting public safety.

Elected in uncontested races were: Hastings Sen. Steve Halloran to the Agriculture Committee; Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg to the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee; Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee; Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha to the Health and Human Services Committee; and Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop to the Judiciary Committee.

Three incumbent chairpersons also were re-elected in uncontested races: Sen. John Stinner of Gering to the Appropriations Committee; Venango Sen. Dan Hughes to the Natural Resources Committee; Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward to the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee; Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee; and Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha to the Urban Affairs Committee.

Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha was re-elected to lead the 13-member Committee on Committees despite a challenge from Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman. The committee submits committee appointments to the full Legislature for approval.

Senators will reconvene Jan. 10 at 10 a.m. They may introduce bills for the first 10 legislative days, or through Jan. 23.

Gov. Pete Ricketts will deliver his State of the State address Jan. 15 in the legislative chamber. Nebraska Supreme Court Justice Michael Heavican will give his State of the Judiciary address Jan. 17.

Committee hearings are scheduled to begin Jan. 22 and will continue through March. The session is scheduled to end in early June.

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