How Bills Become Laws in Nebraska

Ever wonder the steps required for an introduced bill to become a Nebraska law? We’ve got a quick explanation below. We hope to empower Nebraskans to be active observers and even participants in the process!

Unicameral 101: How Bills Move through the Lawmaking Process

An Idea Becomes Introduced Text

Each Senator has 10 days from the start of the session to introduce as many bills as they would like. The deadline this year was Jan. 23, so all the bills that will be considered in this session have been introduced. You can find them all on the Nebraska Legislature website.

Bill Gets Assigned to a Committee

The Reference Committee assigns each bill to one of the Standing Committees.

Bill Gets a Hearing

Every bill gets a public hearing at the committee level. You can see the schedule for hearings on the Nebraska Legislature website. (The weekly schedule even has a handy “Add to Calendar” button.) You can watch hearings live or on-demand via NET.

Committee Considers the Bill

You can attend committee hearings in person (the calendar has location information) and optionally participate to support or oppose the bill.

You can also express support or opposition to a bill (while it’s in committee) by submitting written testimony to the committee chair.

If you are not testifying in person on a bill and would like to submit a written position letter to be included in the official hearing record as an exhibit, the letter must be delivered to the office of the committee chair (or emailed to the committee chair) of the committee conducting the hearing on the bill by 5:00 p.m. on the last work day prior to the public hearing.

Additionally, the letter must include your name and address, state a position of for, against, or neutral on the bill in question and include a request for the letter to be included as part of the public hearing record.

from the Nebraska Legislature website

The committee hears testimony about the bill and then can vote to:

  • indefinitely postpone the bill (“IPP” in the graphic below), effectively “killing the bill” as it won’t advance to general file this session; or
  • take no action; or
  • amend the bill; or
  • advance the bill to general file, meaning that all senators will vote on it.

(To be clear, they can vote to advance without amending, or can amend and then advance, or even amend but not advance.)

Bill Gets to General File (and Possibly Floor Debate)

If the introduced and/or amended bill gets sent to general file by the committee, then it may or may not be debated and voted on by all the senators from across the state.

The speaker can decide to block the bill from floor debate, meaning no action is taken, or can advance the bill to floor debate.

Senators can offer floor amendments during discussion of a bill. Amendments to bills are voted upon separately. A bill will move to select file if at least 25 senators vote to advance it.

Bill Gets to Select File (and Possibly More Floor Debate)

Once at the select file stage, senators can continue floor debate before voting again to advance, or not advance, the bill.

Bill Gets to Final Reading

Final reading is usually non-controversial. The clerk reads the entire bill, or, if a bill is unusually lengthy, the senators may vote to dispense with reading the entire bill.

If, following the final reading, a majority of senators vote for the bill, the bill passes and then goes to the governor.

Bill Goes to the Governor

The governor has 5 working days to sign the bill, veto the bill, or let the bill pass without his signature. If the governor vetoes the bill, the legislature can override the governor’s veto with 30 votes.

Bill Becomes a Law

If a bill has an “emergency” clause, it becomes law immediately upon the governor’s signature. If not, a bill becomes law 90 days after the last day of the session.

Legislative Process: The Flowchart

Download this graphic as a PDF: Bill-to-Law Process

For even more info, see all of our Unicameral 101 posts, including a video explanation of how a bill becomes a law.

Lobbying Best Practices

Nebraskans are the “second house” of our legislature — we’re encouraged to participate in the lawmaking process by advocating to our state senators. As part of our Unicameral 101 series, read our tips on lobbying and testifying in front of committees.

Citizen Lobbying Best Practices: The Five Commandments

1. Be honest and truthful.

Lobbying is about building a relationship of trust between the lobbyist and the senator and senator’s staff. This is especially true with an unpaid lobbyist whose only value to the senator is the accurate and trustworthy information the lobbyist brings to the senator.

2. Be respectful and positive.

Even if you disagree with a senator about an issue or a legislative bill, it is important to maintain a good working relationship with the senator. You may agree with each other on the next issue.

3. Be brief and helpful.

The senators are incredibly busy and they have hundreds of bills to consider. State exactly what you want of the senator and why you want it. Offer factual, useful information that will help the senator make a decision in your favor. Always follow through if the senator asks for your help.

4. Use your own words.

The senators do not have time for redundancy. They do not read mass communication such as blanket emails. They are much more receptive to people who take the time to write and articulate individual thoughts and offer personal stories.

5. Say thank you.

Make a telephone call to the senator’s office to say thank you. Send an email to say thank you. Leave a note on the senator’s desk to say thank you. Write a letter to say thank you. The senators appreciate knowing their hard work is recognized and valued.

Tips for Testifying in Public Hearings

  • You will be limited to 3 to 5 minutes of speaking time, depending upon the committee, to state your case. Write your testimony in advance and practice your oral statements in advance to assure you can meet the testimony time limit.
  • One way to get more time to present your case is to attach supporting documents to your written testimony. Attach graphs, photos, citations, or other evidence that supports your testimony and position. Any documents attached to your testimony will be entered into the record.
  • Bring written copies of your testimony (around 10 copies) to the hearing for the senators.
  • Make eye contact, speak clearly, sit up straight, look confident.
  • Unless you are part of a planned sequence of testifiers, these public hearings are cattle calls. People shuffle forward in a sort of dance to determine who will be the next speaker. When the issue draws a lot of public attention and there are many speakers it is best to be one of the first speakers, so don’t be timid. Jump up, do the dance, and head to the table.
  • If previous speakers have already made your points, when it is your turn to speak just state your name and that you are in agreement with previous speakers who also support/oppose the bill. This process will get your name on the record as a testifier while avoiding redundancy.

How to Read a Legislative Bill

To help LWVGO members and community members to be active participants in the Nebraska legislature, we’re publishing guides to following our state senators’ activities in a series called Unicameral 101.

To kick this series off, see LWVGO Policy Director Peggy Adair’s guide to reading bills below.

The easiest way for a novice to learn how the legislature works is to pick one or two bills of interest and follow those bills through the process. Our legislature’s website, nebraskalegislature.gov, is very user-friendly and contains a wealth of information. To pick a bill, one can type in keywords on the “search bills and laws” page and bills will pop up that one can then read to determine if they are of interest.

To follow a bill, type in the bill number on the upper right side of the legislature’s home page. All of the information regarding that bill will pop up, including the name of the introducing senator, the committee assignment of the bill, the complete copy of the bill, any amendments, and where the bill is in the process.

Once you start looking at bills, you’ll notice that legislative bills have three styles of language, described below.

1) Language in current state statutes is displayed in regular type:

Cities of the metropolitan class shall have power by ordinance: … to prevent or regulate the rolling of hoops, playing of ball, flying of kites, the riding of bicycles or tricycles, or any other amusement or practice having a tendency to annoy persons passing in the streets or on the sidewalks or to frighten teams of horses; to regulate the use of vehicles propelled by steam, gas electricity or other motive power, operated on the streets of the city.  

(Ne. Rev. St. 14-102)

2) Language the introducing senator wants to add to current state statutes is displayed in underlined type:

(1) Body-worn camera means a device worn by a peace office in uniform which has the capability to record both audio and video of an interaction between a peace officer and a member of the public but does not include any device used by an undercover officer;

(LB1000)

3) Language the introducing senator wants to be stricken from current state statutes is displayed in strikethrough type:

The counsel of the state, your own and your fellows, you shall keep secret, unless called on in a court of justice to make disclosures.   

(LB1055)