CH 11


The Role of the Legislature

Lesson 1 - What's in a Unicameral?

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Voting Board Detail 1101_010101

The voting board isn't exactly a piece of artwork, but it's one of the most important things hanging on the walls of this chamber. It shows each senator's vote.  It's part of the open system of the Unicameralone-house legislature.

People in Balcony 1101_0102

This chamber has galleriesIn this case, a gallery is a balcony area where members of the public can watch sessions. on three sides for the public to come in and watch the Legislature in session.

Glass Vestibule 1101_0103

Through these glass doors are 49 senators serving in the Nebraska Unicameral, each representing approximately 37,000 people. Senators are elected to a maximum of two consecutive four-year terms.

Lewis and Clark and Sacagewea Painting 1101_0201

There isn't as much artwork in this chamber as in some other parts of the Capitol.  The scenes that are here show the explorers and traders and settlers who came to this land and encountered native cultures--points of meeting for the people who built Nebraska.

Go to the North Façade to find out more about how people got here. Today, representativesPeople elected to the legislature to present the ideas and carry out the will of the people in their assigned area. from all parts of Nebraska meet here in one room, in one house.

In a two-house legislature, each house passes its own version of a bill, and then the differences are worked out in a conference committeeThis is a group of representatives from both houses of a legislature who make compromises and changes to come up with a bill both houses will support..

The Nebraska Legislature has only one house, so there's no need for a conference committee to meet.  It's not only more open, it's more efficient.  And it can cost less to run than a two-house legislature.

To learn more about Nebraska's one house legislature - Unicameral watch the Nebraska Stories video

"Only in Nebraska".

Besides having just one house, the Nebraska Legislature has another unique feature-- it's nonpartisanNot belonging to any political party..  Senators are supposed to forget their political party affiliationsConnections or membership. when they're in this room. The senators answer to the people instead of to a party, so senators from all the political groups are better able to cooperate.

Sometimes the senators disagree.  But here their job is to work together to resolveTo come up with a solution for a problem or come to agreement. their differences and make life better for all Nebraskans.

The Legislature used to meet only in odd-numbered years. In 1970 they started meeting every year. In odd-numbered years they meet for 90 legislative days and in even years they meet for 60 legislative days.

The Legislature starts the session on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January. Sometimes important issues come up after the session is over for the year. Then the governor can call a special session, or two-thirds of the Legislature can require the governor to call the special session.

During regular sessions, the Legislature can consider any issues relating to state government functions. But in a special session, they can consider only one special issue. Either way, the bill first has to be introduced and assigned a number.

But before the Legislature ever votes on a bill, the bill receives a public hearingAt a public hearing, citizens have a chance to express their opinions to committee members. in the committee that deals with those kinds of issues.

The committee has three choices:

  • take no action (hold)
  • kill the bill (fail)
  • send the bill to General FileFirst-round debate. in the full Legislature (advance)

See what types of Legislative Committees are in the Nebraska Legislature.

Steps of a Bill

Steps of a Bill 1101_0601

Once a bill advances to General File, the full Legislature can debate, amend, and vote on the bill.  Any amendments are written into the bill and it’s checked for accuracy during the enrollment and review process.  If it wins a majority (25 votes) the bill goes to Select File. More debate can take place. Senators vote again.  If it wins majority approval on Select File, the bill moves on to a final reading.  Senators get a printed copy of the bill, and must listen as the bill is read out loud (unless three-fifths of the senators vote to skip the reading).  Since there are a so many bills to read, the Speaker reads them very quickly.   

If the bill passes on final reading, the bill then goes on to the governor. If the governor signs or if the governor takes no action for five days, the bill becomes a law. If the governor vetoesWhen an executive opposes a bill passed by the legislature, the executive rejects it with a veto and the bill does not become law. the bill, the Legislature gets it back with a list of the governor's objections.  The governor can take out specific budget items. This is called a line-item veto. When a bill is vetoed, the legislature can vote on it again and if the majority is big enough, the bill becomes law in spite of the executive’s veto.

Then, the bill becomes law!

Unicameral organization

  • 49 members called senators
  • each senator represents one district
  • the borders of the districts are reconsidered every 10 years

To see a map of the Nebraska Legislative Districts Click HERE.

What do you think it would be like to be a senator in the Nebraska Unicameral?

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