Filibuster, cloture votes a growing trend in Nebraska Legislature

In the legislature there are time limits for how long debate can go on set by the speaker each session.
Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 6:36 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The abortion trigger bill, constitutional carry bill, criminal justice reform bill, and 11 others all went to filibusters and cloture votes this legislative session.

“It’s become the way to stop bills from happening,” Sen. Robert Hilkemann, from Omaha, said.

In the legislature there are time limits for how long debate can go on set by the speaker each session. When that limit is hit, a 1990 rule change calls for a cloture vote where a bill has to get 33 votes, eight more than a traditional vote, to move the bill forward or the bill dies.

Assistant Clerk of the Legislature Brandon Metzler said it’s a way to end debate that could carry on endlessly.

“The thought was if we’re going to stop debate with no more members speaking, we need to make sure there’s a high threshold and this is clearly something the majority, or super-majority, of the body wants is to end the debate and call a vote,” Metzler said.

Legislative data shows that a cloture vote was first used in 1992 and in 30 years it’s been used a total of 229 times, 133 of those or nearly 60%, since 2015.

“It’s common with very contentious social issues,” Metzler said. “I think the thing that really brought it out is now there’s less consensus building. Back then there was a lot more working the floor and cloture was something looming out there. Now people just set their clocks and know it’s coming.”

Fourteen bills went to cloture votes this session. It’s not the highest it’s ever been. In 2016 and 2018, 24 and 25 bills, respectively, went to cloture votes.

This trend doesn’t sit right with some senators who had bills fail to pass cloture this session.

“This is the worst year in the history of the legislature,” Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer said. “The body was dysfunctional. It was so split on issues and filibuster was used so much - literally three quarters of the entire session was nothing but filibuster.”

Data compiled by Sen. Brewer, whose constitutional carry bill died via cloture, shows the body spent 130 hours filibustering. Brewer said this has had a serious impact on how many bills can be discussed.

Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks agreed this is a concerning trend.

“It’s becoming a tool where people jump to filibuster rather than communicating with each other,” Pansing Brooks said.

Pansing Brooks said it does serve a purpose.

“Some bills are not good and need to be stopped,” she said. “I think our filibuster works better than filibusters in Congress or in a lot of other states.”

A recent legislative research study shows Nebraska is one of ten states to have a cloture rule, along with the U.S. Senate.

“It didn’t work in my favor this year, but overall it’s important we keep that cloture vote so we can adjust bills and make them so people can support the bill,” Hilkemann said.

Hilkemann did tell 10/11 he wished a bill dying to cloture wasn’t the end and there was a chance for an amendment process. While Brewer said he wants to change the voting process to make it easier to pass cloture. He said getting a super majority is tough to do.

“When you change the bar, you’re looking at a huge part of Nebraska that will lose on that bill because of the filibuster and that’s not right,” Brewer said.

Brewer wants to propose to the legislature next session that cloture votes either only need 30 votes or two-thirds of present senators, instead of the entire body because many times not everybody votes in cloture.

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