Legislative Session 101

As one of the most impactful advocacy organizations in Nebraska, we are at the Nebraska State Capitol nearly all day every day when state senators are in session. We keep Nebraskans apprised of the issues and alert them to new threats. We couldn't do that without our thousands of supporters. As always, our work is at its strongest when you join in. We asked ACLU of Nebraska Government Liaison Spike Eickholt to explain what Nebraskans need to know about session and he graciously agreed.

Monday, Jan. 10 marks day four in our latest legislative session and there’s already a lot to digest. By the time bill introduction ends, there will be hundreds of new bills — but only some will make it into law.

Here’s what you need to know about the process:

  • Bill introduction: State senators returned to Lincoln at the start of the month for a short session that wraps up in April. They have until Jan. 20 to introduce bills.  During this second year of the biennial session, senators can also take up bills introduced last year, and can debate, amend and vote on any bills pending.
  • Committee hearings: After bill introduction, bills are referred to committees. All legislative bills, except for a few technical bills, must receive a public hearing before a legislative committee. The stage in which a bill is before a committee can be the most critical time for you contact your senator (or a senator on the committee) on a bill that you are passionate about. At a committee hearing you can also testify on a bill as an individual or on behalf of an organization.
  • On the floor: If a committee advances a bill to the floor (or a state senator uses what’s called a pull motion to move the bill to the floor) that bill still needs to advance through three rounds of votes: General File, Select File and Final Reading. The vote on General File is often the most important because this is the most thorough debate and discussion that state senators undertake on legislation. Bills are still subject to debate on later stages, but the first vote the body takes on a bill is the most significant. That’s why it’s so important to make your voice heard early in the process.
  • Governor’s role: After state senators pass a bill on Final Reading, it goes to the governor. The governor can sign it, ignore it and let it pass into law, or return it without signature (veto it). The Legislature can override the Governor’s veto with a three-fifths (30) votes.

This process can be technical but it is important to remember that every Nebraskan has the power to create change. The more senators hear from you and others, the better the chance the senators will vote the way you ask them to.

The 2022 legislative session is currently set to end near the end of April. That means it is time to get to work contacting our senators, writing letters and emails, and testifying in support or opposition to bills important to you. Keep an eye on our social media accounts and website for updates on those bills and look at our Legislation page for bills carrying over from 2021.

This process is democracy in action, and we are thrilled to have you join us in the fight to defend and advance civil liberties and civil rights.