Senators pass more than 100 bills, pay tribute to colleagues

April 11, 2024, 5 p.m. ·

The Nebraska Legislature meeting Thursday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
The Nebraska Legislature meeting Thursday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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Thursday in the Nebraska Legislature was a day of purposeful mumbling and heartfelt tributes to departing colleagues, as lawmaker marked the next-to-final day of this year’s legislative session.

On the penultimate day of this year’s session, senators passed more than 100 bills on subjects ranging from appropriations to zoos. There was no debate on the proposals, which had already been through two rounds of debate, compromise and voting. But that doesn’t mean things were quiet.

Each final vote was preceded by the ritual, quick reading of the title, including who introduced it, the number of the bill, its subject matter, and which sections of law it affected. In one instance, Assistant Clerk Dick Brown read “Engrossed Legislative Bill 1029, introduced by Conrad (District) 46. A bill for an act relating to education, amends section 79.201 Reissue Revised Statute of Nebraska to change provisions related to compulsory education related illness and to repeal the original section.”

That referred to LB1029, Sen. Danielle Conrad’s bill to add mental health to physical health reasons for being excused from school attendance requirements. After the title was read, Lt. Gov. Joe Kelly summoned senators to vote

“All provisions of law relative to procedure having been complied with, the question is shall LB1029 pass? All those in favor vote ‘aye,’ all those opposed vote ‘nay’” Kelly intoned, followed by a bell signalling the start of voting.

After allowing a minute for all the senators to press their green or red buttons to vote yes or no, Kelly asked Brown for the results.

“Record Mr. Clerk,” Kelly said, whereupon Brown read the names of senators and the tally, and Kelly announced the result:

Brown read off how senators voted and the tally.

“Forty-seven ayes, no nays, two excused not voting.”

And Kelly announced the result: “LB 1029 passes.”

And so it went for around six hours. Among the other bills passed was LB1301, to restrict foreign purchases of land near military installations. Another, LB20, would restore felons’ voting rights upon completion of their sentences, rather than the current two-year wait. LB71 would require schools to adopt policies to promote parental involvement, and LB1329 lets schools in rural areas to allow staff to carry firearms.

Senators also passed LB631, to reform probation and parole and expand work-release for prisoners. And they approved LB1284 to promote computer science education and provide forgivable loans to beginning teachers.

The drumbeat of bills passing was occasionally interrupted as senators paid tribute to their colleagues who are leaving, either as a result of term limits or deciding not to run for election or reelection.

Sen. Rick Holdcroft memorialized Sen. John Lowe by recounting a story about a conversation Lowe had with his wife, Kim, when he was deciding to run for office.

“They were having a discussion where John said to Kim, ‘Kim, in your wildest dreams, did you ever see me as a state senator?’ And Kim said, ‘John, let's get down to basics. I've never seen you in my wildest dreams,’” Holdcroft deadpanned.

The jocularity continued as Sen. John Fredrickson imitated Sen. Carol Blood, using some of her familiar phrases.

“Fellow senators, friends all, I rise today, not with a gotcha question. And I'm glad to see that so many of you are actually on the floor listening, as I have some really important data to share with you all. Mr. President, can I please get a gavel?” Fredrickson mimicked, as Kelly chimed in with a gavel.

Sen. Ben Hansen talked about Sen. Tom Brewer.

“What kind of tribute do you give to a guy who's served the United States Army for 36 years, including six tours in Afghanistan, awarded two Purple Hearts, blown up by a grenade, shot multiple times, climbed the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, survived last year’s session?” Hansen asked.

Hansen was one of five senators, including Brewer, who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro three years ago. The two also served together in last year’s legislative session, one of the most contentious and filibuster-filled in history.

Not all the tributes were humorous, as in what Sen. Rita Sanders said about Sen. Joni Albrecht.

“Over the past four years, I have gotten to know Joni as not only a colleague, but as a fierce advocate for pro-life movement. Joni has stood by her faith when legislating policy that would be beneficial to all Nebraskans, including the unborn,” Sanders said.

And Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh choked up as she addressed Sen. Lynne Walz.

“My friend, my colleague, my North Star in this place, Senator Lynn Walz: I am definitely going to cry. I love you. I love your heart. I love your compassion. I love your dedication to everyone and everything,” Cavanaugh said.

In addition to those mentioned, tributes went out to term-limited senators Bruce Bostelman, Steve Erdman, Steve Halloran, Lou Ann Linehan, Mike McDonnell, Tony Vargas, Justin Wayne, and Anna Wishart, as well as Sens. Fred Meyer and Julie Slama, who decided not to run for election or reelection.

All told, that means there will be a turnover of at least 15 seats next year, nearly a third of the 49-member Legislature, the nation’s smallest. Senators still have one day left in this legislative session, next Thursday, when they will convene for final votes on other bills, as well as an opportunity to override any vetoes by Gov. Jim Pillen.