Nebraska Legislative Committees
he Legislature has 14 standing committees that are organized around various public policy areas in order to facilitate the processing of legislation. There are also two other types of legislative committees. Select committees are appointed for the purpose of carrying out procedural matters related to the legislative process and the operation of the Legislature as a state agency. Special committees are generally established by state law for a specific purpose, usually focused on providing some form of legislative oversight of a policy area. Members of the Legislature also belong to various interstate compacts designed to achieve mutual public policy objectives.
Not unlike other state legislatures, the Nebraska Legislature utilizes a variety of committees to handle the business of the body. There are fourteen “standing committees,” four “select committees,” and presently five “special committees.” Each standing committee (e.g., the Appropriations Committee) has a particular subject-matter jurisdiction and all bills and constitutional resolutions relating to that subject matter are assigned to that committee. Select Committees (e.g., the Committee on Committees) are generally those committees that help to facilitate the legislative process with little direct involvement in specific public policy issues. Special committees (e.g., the Executive.Board) are more or less administrative in nature and are established by statute with the assignment of specific duties.
Generally, all committees are authorized to hold hearings, to meet as needed, to require the attendance of witnesses and production of evidence as deemed necessary. All committees may investigate any matter within its jurisdiction and may present for consideration any final reports and recommendations for action resulting from such investigations.1
Aside these general guidelines, there are some very distinguishable differences among the three categories of committees and among individual committees within these categories as will be explored in the following sections.
It is important to note that before 1973, all committee chairpersons were nominated by the Committee on Committees and approved by the Legislature.2
This resulted, however, in an unusually high number of committee chairpersons being selected from the membership of the Committee on Committees itself. At one time, in order to aspire to become a chairperson of a standing committee, for instance, meant first becoming a member of the Committee on Committees. In 1973, the Rules of the Legislature were amended to require at large elections of all leadership positions. This permitted a fair election process where all members could participate in the selection of committee leaders.
Like other legislative bodies, the position of committee chairperson is seen as a very important role since the views of these individuals could shape the future of state policy. All at large elections for committee chairpersons are conducted by secret ballot. Before the ballot is taken, each person nominated may make a public statement to the body indicating what may be expected from him or her if elected. In most cases, however, candidates for such positions usually highlight their length of service in the Legislature, to indicate their knowledge of the legislative process, and perhaps their occupational experience in a certain area, which indicates their expertise in the subject matter of the committee.3
It is not unusual for members of the Legislature to campaign or at least make known their intent to run. It is considered appropriate, but certainly not required, for a senator wishing to run for a particular chairmanship to place a letter on file with the Clerk of the Legislature indicating his or her intentions.
The exact duties of the chairperson vary from committee to committee. However, there are some general responsibilities that apply to most legislative committees:
- To call the committee together at the regular or appointed time and place.
- To arrange for the publication of meeting notices.
- To preside over meetings of the committee.
- To maintain order and decide all questions of order.
- To supervise and direct all clerical and other employees of the committee.
- To prepare or supervise, in consultation with the committee, the schedule of public hearings to be held by the committee.
- To prepare or supervise the preparation of a written agenda for all committee meetings.
- To prepare or supervise the preparation of interim study proposals necessary to properly carry out the committee’s business, in consultation with the committee.
- To conduct or supervise the conduct of all studies assigned by the legislature, and all studies necessary to properly carry out the committee’s business, and to insure proper documentation of all studies conducted.
- To prepare or supervise the preparation of written reports on all interim studies assigned the committee by the legislature, and on all committee studies in which testimony or information was secured by subpoena.
- To prepare or supervise the preparation of committee reports and committee statements and submit them to the legislature.
- To have custody and insure the security of all bills, resolutions, papers and other documents referred or submitted to the committee, to keep all committee materials separate and distinct from personal materials, to make all committee materials available to committee members at reasonable times, and to transmit committee materials to the appropriate repository when the committee is finished with them.
- To insure that all activities of the committee are carried out in accordance with the rules of the legislature and the rules of the committee.
The principal duty of the vice chairperson is to preside over meetings in the absence of the chairperson. If both the vice chairperson and the chairperson are absent, the meeting is often chaired by the most senior legislative member of the committee.4
In general, committee members may participate freely in committee discussions and debate, make and second motions and assert points of order and privilege, subject to the rules of parliamentary procedure. In committee hearings, a committee member may question witnesses only with permission of the chairperson and only to the extent the chairperson allows, but the chairperson must afford each member of the committee a reasonable opportunity to question each witness.5
It is the duty of committee members to attend and participate in all committee meetings. A member who cannot be present at a meeting must notify the chairperson or committee clerk in advance, and indicate where he or she can be located should his or her presence be needed. A member must also disclose in the committee records his or her interest in all committee proceedings relating to any question which directly and immediately affects his or her personal or private right or interest, if it conflicts with the public interest.6
Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee
Building Maintenance Committee
Business and Labor Committee
Committee on Committees
Education Commission of the States
Enrollment and Review Committee
Executive Board of the Legislative Council
General Affairs Committee
Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee
Health and Human Services Committee
Justice Reinvestment Oversight Committee
Legislature’s Planning Committee
Midwestern Higher Education Commission (Midwest Compact)
Natural Resources Committee
Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee
State-Tribal Relations Committee
Transportation and Telecommunications Committee
Urban Affairs Committee