It’s time to take a nap. On Thursday, June 1st, the Legislature adjourned sine die, marking the end of the first session of the 108th Nebraska Legislature. This was an incredibly challenging session for Nebraska advocates, both personally and professionally. We saw a Legislature prioritize attacks on reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights against the advice of doctors, medical organizations, and countless Nebraskans and at the expense of dozens of bills that could have improved our communities. The passage of LB574 not only causes harm to so many in our state, it has also caused great harm to the functioning of our Legislative body. Advocates faced committee referencing that went against past precedent, public hearings where the public was not given time to speak, inconsistencies in rules, do-overs on defeated bills, and blatant violations of the single subject rule. The spirit of nonpartisan collaboration and compromise in the Legislature often felt missing this year.
Navigating all of this was difficult, to say the least. And yet, our Members persevered, demonstrating grassroots force, organizing strength, humanity, and good faith negotiation time and time again. While this didn’t always lead to the desired policy outcome, it did show the importance of fighting for what is right. Where we won, we will make a difference in countless lives and where we lost, we have set the stage for future advocacy and organizing efforts. For this final edition of the Legislative brief, we are reflecting back on our work this session.
This session, the Table testified on over 20 bills. Our mission of increasing voter turnout and year-round civic engagement in our state is directly impacted by the decisions made around voting rights and democracy issues at the Legislature. Some of the bills we supported would have modernized our voter registration system, allowed any county to conduct an all-mail election, required the Secretary of State to audit polling places for ADA compliance, restored voting rights for citizens upon completion of a felony sentence, and created racial and disability impact statements for proposed legislation. While the slow pace of the Legislature this session kept many of these bills from advancing, we were delighted to support the passage of LB254, which will create an online closed-captioned video archive of the Legislature. It can be hard to stay engaged if you are working or busy during the day; being able to go back to watch relevant coverage will help more Nebraskans follow along with the policy decisions impacting their lives.
The main work of the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs committee this session was the creation of a voter ID bill as required by last November’s Initiative 432. From the beginning, the Table was in opposition to this initiative. Voter ID can easily disenfranchise vulnerable Nebraskans and the problem it purports to solve, “election fraud,” has been proven time and time again to be nonexistent in our state. However, we respect the will of the voters. Thankfully, we were able to work with a phenomenal coalition of organizations to advocate against using this voter ID bill as a vehicle for further restrictions. The voter ID bill we got, LB514, was a narrow interpretation of voter ID crafted by the Government committee with some additional protections to help prevent voters from slipping through the cracks. This includes the option to present a wide range of IDs, including passports, driver’s licenses, military and tribal IDs, student IDs from Nebraska colleges, and patient documents from hospitals, nursing homes, or assisted living centers. Expired IDs can be used if they have the voter’s name and photo, further expanding the number of Nebraskans who will not have to seek additional documentation. We appreciate the Government Committee’s work in implementing the requirement set by the voters in a reasonable and measured way.
This would not have happened without the organizing efforts of the organizations who showed up at numerous public hearings and meetings with elected officials to share the various challenges voter ID will cause for our communities. The Government committee listened, took a step back, and committed to doing this the right way. Our collective work now becomes educating Nebraskans on the new provisions and ensuring every voter in our state is prepared with the documentation they need in 2024.
We were proud to facilitate and support a variety of collaborative efforts this year. Our partnership with the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands and Coalition for a Strong Nebraska brought us revamped advocacy calls this year with a focus on three main issue areas developed with our Network: housing, behavioral health, and election accessibility. These groups met weekly to build strategies and share updates with the goal of building multi-year success in their issue areas. Already, progress was made in these areas, including securing funding for rural and urban workforce housing in the budget (later vetoed by Governor Pillen), the expansion of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics, and the aforementioned success in keeping additional restrictions out of the voter ID bill. Organizations are more effective advocates when we can work together and build off of each other's expertise. The Nebraska Table looks forward to continuing to provide spaces to collaborate in the interim and in Legislative sessions to come.
Our Legislature is at its best when people from a variety of backgrounds participate in making policy better. Our nonprofit network, with its expertise in so many areas, is a critical component of this work. Thanks to every one of our Members who showed up this session to testify in a hearing, organize a Lobby Day, talk to a Senator, or work to get a bill introduced and passed. And thank you to every single advocate who spoke up, contacted their senator, and fought hard for Nebraska. No matter how you participated, your voice made a difference. Let’s take a break, get some rest, and then get back out there ready for next session!