What is a Unicameral?
A Unicameral is a type of government that consists of only one legislative body. George Norris led the effort to establish a Unicameral in Nebraska, and voters solidified the change in 1937. Today, we have 49 Senators who each represent about 40,000 constituents.
In Nebraska, the people serve as the Second House. Public participation is always encouraged so Senators can work with their fellow Nebraskans on any legislative issues.
There are still checks and balances in place, even without a second legislative body. The Nebraska Governor or Supreme Court can veto any legislation they consider improper. All bills must focus on a single subject, and cannot be changed unless an Amendment is approved by a majority of senators.
What makes Nebraska different?
Nebraska is the only state in the nation with a Unicameral legislature. Our Legislature is more efficient than other governing bodies, because a single house votes on all legislation. The Unicameral system also saves our state money. Nebraska has fewer state legislators than any other state, resulting in much lower government costs. A Unicameral passes more bills with less cost to taxpayers.
Nebraska is also unique because our Legislature is officially nonpartisan. Political candidates' parties are not listed on the ballot, and legislative leadership is not based on party affiliation. Issues in national politics often vary from issues in local government - our nonpartisan legislature allows lawmakers to vote based on the needs of their district, rather than strict party platforms.
Finally, our Unicameral system allows for more public involvement. All votes are public record, meaning that it is always possible to see how a Senator or Committee voted on an issue. All hearings and debate sessions are televised for public viewing. Unlike other states, every legislative bill introduced in Nebraska is guaranteed a public hearing. This means that members of the public may share their feedback on any bill in the Legislature.
The Legislative Process
Each year's Legislative Session begins in early January. Odd-numbered years have a 90-day session, and even-numbered years have a shorter 60-day session. Senators have the first ten days of the session to introduce bills. Then, each new bill is given a public hearing in front of its designated Committee.
To pass a bill into law, a Senator's bill must first make it out of Committee. The Legislature has 14 Standing Committees, and every bill is referred to a single Committee based on its subject matter. Bills are not guaranteed to be debated on the Legislative Floor. Committees need a majority vote to advance the bill onto floor debate.
Nebraska's Unicameral debate process functions differently than other states. In order for a bill to become law it must pass through Committee and three rounds of floor debate. These rounds are known as General File, Select File, and Final Reading.
In most cases, 25 votes are needed to adopt amendments or advance a bill. If a bill advances from General File, it is automatically placed on Select File. If a bill passes Final Reading, it moves to the Governor to be signed into law. If debate fills the time limit, a vote must be taken to cease debate. Known as cloture, 33 votes are needed to end debate and get to a vote on whether to advance the bill. This process allows for proper and sufficient debate, so lawmakers can work out potential problems with bills.
How to Get Involved
Testifying at a hearing is a valuable way to ensure lawmakers hear your voice on issues facing Nebraskans. There are three ways to participate in a legislative hearing: to deliver in-person testimony, to submit an online position comment, or to submit written testimony with ADA Accommodations.
All hearings are public and you are encouraged to participate. Hearing directly from Nebraskans keeps lawmakers accountable and creates a healthier democracy.
You do not need to wait for a scheduled hearing to express your views. You are also free to call or email any government official at any time. Members of the public may also visit the Capitol to observe floor debate or ask to speak with Senators outside of the legislative chamber.