New senators highlight top issues facing unicameral in 2023

The next legislative session starts in a matter of days and among the 49 senators to fill the chamber are 13 new faces.
Published: Jan. 2, 2023 at 6:44 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The next legislative session starts in a matter of days and among the 49 senators to fill the chamber are 13 new faces.

“I’m truly excited to start the new session,” Senator-elect Jane Raybould, representing District 28 in Lincoln, said.

10/11 sat down with three soon-to-be senators to talk about their goals for the session.

“I have some nerves and excitement,” Seward senator-elect Jana Hughes, representing District 24 in Seward said.

One of the three senators isn’t new to the legislature: Lincoln senator-elect Danielle Conrad previously served in the unicameral from 2007 to 2015.

“It’s a real honor and humbling opportunity,” Conrad said.

All three identified Nebraska’s workforce shortage as the biggest issue for the session, with the state’s 2.5% unemployment rate among the lowest in the country. Hughes said in a seminar with AARP, they shared a prediction that there will be more Nebraskans over 65 than under 18.

“So it’s not all that people are leaving Nebraska, it’s also that we just don’t have enough people,” Hughes said. “Whatever we can do to keep people here is important.”

Hughes said she wants to start with creating more apprenticeships and opportunities for young adults leaving high school.

“As much as we can grow here in Nebraska to keep those kids here and active and entrenched, then that’s better for Nebraska,” Hughes said.

Hughes also called on expanding rural broadband access and working on smart immigration policies that will allow workers to come to Nebraska.

Both Raybould and Conrad are calling on the legislature to make it easier for young families to work and live in Nebraska.

“We need to build more affordable housing and market rate workforce housing,” Raybould said. “Then we need to give incentives to allow more daycares and childcare facilities to be successful and operable and viable.”

Conrad said issues facing families will be her top priority throughout the session, specifically fighting for a middle class tax cut. She said with the revenue the state is predicting to bring in this year, there’s an opportunity to make a significant difference. The state’s forecasting board recently raised revenue projections for this fiscal year to $6.4 billion and Governor Pete Ricketts recently touted a record high rainy day fund of $1.7 billion.

“By investing in health care, by investing in education, by investing in infrastructure and childcare and job training, we can change the face of Nebraska now and for generations to come,” Conrad said. “But that’s going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of political will and a lot of leadership.”

But Conrad also said before senators can start those conversations, they’ll need to parse out the rules of the session itself. Specifically, secret ballots for choosing committee chairs after the Charles Herbster-founded Nebraska First PAC created the “Transparency in Leadership Pledge” aiming to make those votes public.

In a September press release, Rod Edwards, a spokesperson for the PAC said quote: “It is pretty simple. Either our legislators support being transparent with their votes or they want to keep the back room deals that come with electing leadership by secret ballot. We believe voters support transparency and will support candidates who do too.”

Per the PAC’s website, 23 senators and candidates had signed the pledge. Both Raybould and Conrad did not sign the pledge, Raybould adding that she believes the secret ballots are vital to the unicameral process.

“A secret ballot, that means that I can vote for whoever I think is the most qualified without facing punitive consequences from my party for having supported a Democrat or a Republican, vice versa,” Raybould said. “So we should be free to be able to select the most qualified without having any political fallout or consequences.”

Conrad also said filibuster rules could be called into question. A filibuster raises the bar for votes needed on issues that have had extensive debate and was used often in the last legislative session.

“A lot of times people think about the filibuster rule in context of social issues, and some of those very controversial, very hot button issues that garner a lot of headlines,” Conrad said. ‘But this also comes into play in a state like Nebraska, where we have an ever-changing demographic situation.”

As for Hughes, she didn’t sign the transparency pledge, but the PAC website said she had said she supports the call for more transparency. Hughes also said she wasn’t comfortable commenting on filibuster rules yet, adding she wants to learn more first.

“So I’m a little bit of ‘Let’s sit back and see what happens,’” Hughes said.