Lawmaking in Nebraska
The lawmaking process in Nebraska officially begins when a senator introduces a bill into the Legislature, which meets each January. But the process actually begins much earlier, when a senator first begins to formulate ideas for new laws.
An idea for a new law may be suggested by anyone: concerned citizens, special interest groups, state agencies or the governor. But before the Legislature can formally consider the idea, it must be introduced as a bill by a senator or legislative committee.
Committees debate and propose amendments to bills, and the full Legislature has an opportunity to debate each bill at least two times before its final passage. Senators may propose amendments to alter a bill at each stage of debate.
Read through the steps below to learn how a bill becomes a Nebraska state law, and refer to the corresponding chart of the process.
First, a senator and his or her staff research a problem and study possible legislative remedies. A senator may introduce a bill to create a new law, repeal an existing law or change a law.
The Legislature has a research division that helps senators with their research projects. Much of their research is done during the period between sessions called the interim. During this time, legislative committees study a variety of issues that have been outlined in interim study resolutions passed by the Legislature.
A senator brings his or her idea for a new law to a bill drafter, who works with the senator to transform the idea into the proper legal form for a legislative bill. Unlike some states, bills introduced in Nebraska may contain only one subject.
A senator brings his or her idea for a new law to a bill drafter, who works with the senator to transform the idea into the proper legal form for a bill. Unlike some states, bills introduced in Nebraska may contain only one subject.
Most bills are introduced during the first 10 days of the legislative session which begins each January. In order to introduce a bill, a senator files it with the Clerk of the Legislature. The clerk reads the title of the bill into the record, assigns it a number and prints copies of it for public and legislative use.
The Legislative Fiscal Office prepares budget statements that estimate the anticipated change in state, county, or municipal expenses or revenue under the provisions of each bill. This statement is called a fiscal note. The fiscal note contains three estimates. One estimate is calculated by the fiscal office staff; another is prepared by the governor's budget office; and a third is prepared by the affected state agency. In addition, the fiscal office prepares appropriations bills ("A" bills), which accompany bills that have a fiscal impact.
A nine-member Reference Committee then determines which bills will go to each one of the 14 standing committees. With the exception of a few technical bills, most bills introduced into the Legislature must receive a public hearing by a committee. At hearings, citizens have a chance to express their opinions to committee members. Testimony is recorded and transcribed to become a part of the official committee record.
After the hearing, committees may:
- vote to send the bill to general file with or without amendments,
- indefinitely postpone the bill, or
- take no action on it.
Go to the Committees portion of this site for more information on committee membership and the committee process.
General File is the first time the full Legislature has the opportunity to debate and vote on bills. At this stage, senators consider amendments, which may be proposed by committees and by individual senators. Many people consider General File to be the most crucial stage of the legislative process because it is where most compromises are reached. It takes a majority vote of the Legislature (25 votes) to adopt amendments or move a bill from General File to the next stage of consideration.
Commonly referred to as "E & R," enrollment and review is a process by which previously adopted amendments are incorporated into a bill, and the bill is checked for technical and grammatical accuracy.
Select File is the second debating and voting stage. This step allows another opportunity for amendment, compromise and reflection. Bills on Select File may be indefinitely postponed or advanced to the next stage. After Select File, bills are sent to E & R again to be rechecked. Bills then are reprinted for Final Reading.
Before final passage, all bills are constitutionally required to be read aloud in their entirety by the Clerk of the Legislature, unless three-fifths (30 members) of the Legislature votes to waive the requirement. A bill may not be amended or debated on Final Reading, but may be returned to Select File for a specific amendment. Bills may not be voted on for final passage until at least five legislative days after the bill is introduced, and one legislative day after it is placed on Final Reading.
A proposed constitutional amendment requires a three-fifths vote of the elected members (30) to place it on the general election ballot and a four-fifths vote (40) to place it on a primary or special election ballot. All other bills without an emergency clause require a simple majority vote before going to the governor. A bill with an emergency clause requires a vote of two-thirds (33 members) of the Legislature.
After the Legislature passes a bill on Final Reading, it goes to the governor for consideration. The governor has five days, excluding Sundays, to decide what to do with a bill. If the governor signs a bill or declines to act on it, the bill becomes a state law. The governor may veto a bill, and he or she has the authority to strike specific budget appropriations (line-item veto). The Legislature may override any gubernatorial veto, although it takes a vote of 30 senators to do so.
Most bills passed and approved by the governor become law three calendar months after the Legislature adjourns. However, bills may take effect before that date if they contain an emergency clause or a specified operative date.