Senators offer legislative advice for Westside community
A panel of legislative experts provided their advice Monday night to Westside stakeholders.
“This meeting stemmed from a conversation last year about how is school funded” noted Board of Education member and meeting moderator Beth Morrissette. “How do we get our dollars? People said, we want to learn more about the process and how our partnership with the Unicameral works. This is a starting point.”
The bipartisan panel included State Senators Joni Craighead, John McCollister and Burke Harr, former State Senator Steve Lathrop and legislative lobbyist Sean Kelly. With an estimated $1 billion dollars going to K-12 education annually, these experts helped educate all in attendance about how the legislative process works and how constituents can make the largest impact on the decision making process.
The panel noted when, how and who you talk to are all important factors, suggesting the following:
- Form a personal relationship with your senator, ideally in the fall before the legislative session begins. If you want to have coffee with them, invite additional individuals and let the senators know it will be a group of their constituents.
- If you represent a group or organization, say that; this tells a senator they are hearing from multiple people through one conversation. Scale is important.
- The best time to contact your senator about a bill is before or during the time it is in committee. The further a bill moves on in the process, the more difficult it becomes to amend it.
- Bills are introduced within the first 10 days of the legislative session.
- The Reference Committee determines which bills go to each of the 14 committees. This time is used for public hearing, and senators vote to send the bill to General File with or without amendments.
- General File, the first time the full Legislature debates and considers amendments. This is the longest period for debate.
- Second Reading/Select File, there is less debate. This time is used to clean up loose ends.
- Third Reading, the chances of amendments are rare. This is for a vote.
- Do NOT send a chain or standardized mass email. When many senators see that an email is copied and resent by several people, they simply delete it.
- Include your name, address and contact information. Senators have no way to respond to anonymous comments. They do want to respond to people they know they represent in their district.
- Email is ok, phone call is good, a personal meeting is better, your testimony is BEST. Anyone can do this; you sign up, and you are given 5 minutes to speak. Your testimony, sharing how a bill actually affects you, often has the greatest impact on our senators.
The panel also strongly encouraged all stakeholders to be informed. Check out www.nebraskalegislature.gov where you can see a full list of bills and where they are at in the process, which senators make up which committees, and their contact information.
- Contact YOUR senator. Senators make constituents in their own district’s top priority. However, if your issue is committee specific (for example, education), contact the committee members in addition to your senator, but do this BEFORE it leaves committee.
- There are 8 senators on each committee. It takes 5 votes to move a bill out of committee.
- Your senator, whether they are on that committee or not, will then need your perspective if that bill reaches the floor for debate.
- You can follow a bill on the Nebraska legislature website, which is updated daily. All sessions are also live-streamed through the website.
The panel reminded stakeholders to ask: how much does your senator know about that particular bill or issue?
- 34 current state senators have under 2 years experience. They are trying to learn about the process as much as they are about countless issues in this session alone.
- Help inform your senator with both how a bill affects you and research backing your opinions; most senators will try to gather information from both opponents and proponents.
- Lobbyists often do carry weight with senators because they build trust and relationships, as well as provide valuable information.
Regarding education specifically, sitting state senators noted there are several bills they are watching closely.
- Senator McCollister noted there are some bills involving TEEOSA (Nebraska Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act) he is watching carefully because rural senators are encouraging change. There are also charter school bills he is watching.
- Senator Harr echoed Senator McCollister’s points, saying “Rural guys say we are too reliant on property taxes, so they are trying to take a little bit more of the pot. We are going to have a big fight over that. I don’t know what the answer is, and I don’t think anyone does.”
- Westside Community Schools has identified two bills in the Education Committee with potential impact to public school funding.
- LB 409, proposed by Sen. Groene, freezes all District budgets with no increases allowed for 2 years, lowers equalization aid to schools.
- LB 540, proposed by Sen. Stinner , would alter the TEEOSA formula. No change to equalization, targets net option funding and allocated income tax
- You can view more information online about the Education Committee, including Sen. McCollister’s summary of education bills, here: http://news.legislature.ne.gov/edu/
As the meeting closed out, several people including Westside Board of Education members and panel participants expressed gratitude to the stakeholders who attended the meeting, and to everyone who has reached out with questions.
“The access you have to your state senators is like no other state,” said Dr. Blane McCann, Westside Community Schools Superintendent. “These representatives actually listen. As a constituent, it is your right to go up and see how the process works. Your voice is important.”
“Call anytime, or email,” said Senator McCollister. “Thank you for being here to be part of the process.”