Some Nebraska senators frustrated with legislative process

Some state senators say they're frustrated with the slow process of passing legislation in Lincoln.
Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 6:52 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Even though the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature is technically non-partisan, there are clear differences in the success rate of bills passed between Democrats and Republicans.

The legislature is comprised of 32 Republicans and 17 Democrats.

6 News took the list of current senators and identified which ones have a record for last year’s 107th Legislature. Then we counted the number of bills they introduced versus the ones that crossed the finish line.

Current Republicans in last year’s legislature passed 31% of their introduced bills.

Democrats passed 18% of their bills.

Frustrations among some are clear.

“I have nothing to lose,” said Senator Machaela Cavanaugh to her colleagues. “Like nothing of mine is going to pass in this body. Nothing of mine is even going to come out of committees in this body. So I’m a free agent beyond all free agents.”

Senator Megan Hunt weighed in on the process.

“Sometimes I think the problem is the messenger,” Hunt said. “Maybe I’m a progressive. I’m a leftist. And so, people don’t want me to have a win or something.”

Though, Democrats tend to introduce more bills than their counterparts.

Last year saw an average of 20 bills per Republican senator versus 37 per Democratic senator. Senator Justin Wayne of Omaha was an outlier. He introduced more than 80 pieces of legislation and 18 passed.

“For me, it’s about just finding common ground,” Wayne said. “We were able to explain that North Omaha is no different than some of the rural towns in Nebraska. The issues they’re struggling with, poverty and lack of jobs, are sort of the same things we have in North Omaha.”

Among the current Republican senators included in last year’s analysis, Senator Mike Moser, a republican representing District 22, showed out. He batted five for six, with an 83% pass rate.

Among current Democrats, Senator Lynne Walz led the pack last year, passing 38% of her bills. She introduced 26 pieces of legislation and worked to pass 10 of them.

While this method took available information from the Nebraska Legislative website, it’s not an exact science. Some bills may have been reworked, repackaged and reattached to other bills as an amendment. Those “wins” would’ve been listed as “indefinitely postponed” on the site.

Former Senator Steve Lathrop left because finding that common ground over the years became much harder.

“The contrast between my first eight years and the last four is pretty dramatic,” Lathrop said. “It had more to do with the merit, the work you’ve done. Didn’t have anything to do with the party.”

Lathrop could’ve run for another term, but decided not to.

“The fact that I could work on an issue, understand it better than anybody in the body, and come to the floor and explain it and not be heard, not be listened to. It just became less rewarding to me,” he said.

As Nebraska senators work this year to pass bills important to them, they’ll have to continue navigating a unicameral that they say feels more and more divided.