Ceremony, Commitee Elections Mark 2019 Legislature's Debut

Jan. 9, 2019, 5:07 p.m. ·

Chief Justice Mike Heavican swears in senators (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Listen To This Story

Senators began the 2019 session of the Nebraska Legislature Wednesday, electing leaders who will help shape policy on social, fiscal, and other issues over the next six months.

Ceremony mixed with practical business as the Legislature got underway. Presiding over the gathering attended by family, friends and staff of the 49 senators was Lt. Gov. Mike Foley. “The 106th Legislature, first session of the Legislature of Nebraska assembled in the George W. Norris legislative chamber of the state capitol, at the hour of 10 a.m. Wednesday Jan. 9, 2019, is now called to order,” Foley intoned.

He soon called on Sergeant-at-Arms Jim Doggett to announce an official to swear in 13 re-elected, 11 newly-elected, and 2 newly-appointed senators. “Mr. President, your committee now escorting chief justice of the Supreme Court of the great State of Nebraska, Mike Heavican,” Doggett announced.

Heavican walked to the front of the chamber, faced the senators, and read them their oath of office. “Raise your right hand, please. Do each of you solemnly swear or affirm that you will support the constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state of Nebraska,” he began.

The officially nonpartisan Legislature now contains 30 registered Republicans, 18 registered Democrats, and one registered nonpartisan, That’s one fewer Republican and two more Democrats than at the end of last year’s session. Those divisions sometimes, but not always, affect which senators get elected to chair various committees.

There was only one candidate for Speaker, who determines which bills get on the daily agenda, and speaks for the Legislature as an institution. That candidate was the previous Speaker, Jim Scheer, who pledged to do the job with humility. “I will always remember and have remembered that you are electing me to serve you. And I represent you as your representative in the public,” Scheer said.

Another part of the Speaker’s job is to call for a pause when senators need time to work things out. Scheer did that Wednesday, asking the Legislature to stand at ease while a meeting took place of senators from the First Congressional District caucus.

“Did the speaker say ‘caucus’ or ‘carcass?’ Sen. Ernie chambers asked, to laughter.

When senators got down to the serious business of electing committee chairs, results Wednesday didn’t fall exactly on party lines. Sen. Mike Hilgers, a Republican, defeated Sen. Kate Bolz, a Democrat, for chair of the Executive Board, which determines which committees various bills get assigned to, and thereby can affect their chances of passage.

But Sen. Tony Vargas, a Democrat, then defeated Sen. Suzanne Geist, a Republican, for vice chair.

For the Education Committee chairmanship, Sen. Mike Groene, a registered Republican and often a critic of the educational establishment, held onto his seat, defeating Sen. Rick Kolowski, a Democrat who had a 41-year career in education, retiring as principal of Millard West High School.

But for the Business and Labor Committee, Sen. Joni Albrecht, a Republican, was defeated by Sen. Matt Hansen, a Democrat. Albrecht had been elected chair two years ago as a freshman, part of a wave of conservative Republicans who were ascendant last session.

In one contest between two Republicans, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan defeated Sen. Brett Lindstrom for chairmanship of the Revenue Committee, which shapes tax policy. (For results of all committee chair elections see this Legislative Journal, pp. 11-19)

Senators resume their session Thursday, with the morning devoted to submitting bills, and the afternoon to swearing in the governor and other constitutional officers, starting at 1:30 Central Time.