A new legislative session opened Wednesday, leaving behind the disputes which clouded the beginning of the previous session.
“Good morning, welcome to the George W. Norris Legislative Chamber for the first day of the 106th legislature, first session,” Presiding officer, Lt. Governor Mike Foley, opened the 2019 session which features 13 new state senators, joining 13 others who won re-election in November.
All took taking the oath of office administered by Chief Justice Mike Heavican.
Legislators re-elected Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk as Speaker, who vowed no deals, no special treatment, all lawmakers treated equally.
“I will always remember and have remembered that you are electing me to serve you,” Scheer told fellow legislators during a floor speech when he offered to serve again as Speaker of the Legislature.
Legislators elected 14 committee chairs, this year without the drama of two years ago. Conservative Republicans, at the beginning of the last two-year legislative session made a concerted effort to fill chairmanships with their candidates. Today, lawmakers elected four Democrats to the standing committees, three Democrats winning without opposition.
Though officially non-partisan, the Unicameral this session has 30 Republicans, 18 Democrats and an independent who often votes with Democrats.
Key chairs include Sen. John Stinner of Scottsbluff re-elected as chair of the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha elected chair of the Revenue Committee, Sen. Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings elected chair of the Agriculture Committee, Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte re-elected chair of the Education Committee, Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha elected chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha elected chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson re-elected chair of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.
The enthusiasm of the first day of the legislative session will soon meet some difficult realities. This is the long, 90-day session in which lawmakers must approve a two-year state budget as they face the possibility of a $95 million shortfall and increased costs with voter approval of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Property tax relief has been on the minds of nearly every state senator, but lawmakers also will face issues such as overcrowded prisons, proposals to give military retirees tax breaks, and proposed changes to the state’s marijuana laws.
The legislative session ends at the beginning of June.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]