The question I am probably asked most by constituents is, “What is it like being a legislator?” To
answer this question and to help citizens better understand the inner workings of the Nebraska
Senate, I’m going to use this week’s column to give readers a picture of a day in the life of a
A typical day during the legislative session often begins during the 7 o’clock hour with a
breakfast function hosted by a group wanting to tell senators about its services or about bills it
supports. One example would be the Wednesday morning group which consists of about five
agricultural organizations that host approximately 15 senators, although every legislator is
invited. During that meeting, discussion will focus on bills scheduled to be debated, but which
may be anywhere in the process from committee to Round 3 floor debate. This meeting, which
usually lasts about an hour, is held a block from the capitol and is sponsored by a lobbying firm.
Following that meeting, I’ll generally try to make it back to my legislative office before heading to
the 9 A.M. opening on the floor. In the office, my staff briefs me on bills scheduled for that day
and hands me a folder they have put together for me to take to the floor so that I am prepared to
talk on those bills.
While floor debate is taking place, it is quite common to get summoned to come out into the
lobby to hear a lobbyist give their advice on legislation being discussed. This is where
discernment is important. It is wise to ask to be briefed on all sides of an issue. Lobbyists will tell
you information about the side they represent, but, since their reputations hang on their integrity,
they will usually present all sides when asked!
With more than 800 bills presented each session, it is impossible to know everything about
every bill. This is why lobbyists and your fellow senators, whom you have come to trust and who
have become knowledgeable about certain pieces of legislation, are important. This makes
integrity among members of the legislature vitally important, and is an illustration of the
importance of personal integrity in all walks of life!
Over the noon hour the legislative body normally takes a break. During this time there is often a
function hosted by some organization. The legislature reconvenes in the afternoon with floor
As readers have probably heard, several senators have been using the filibuster rules to slow
the legislative process down this session. They are doing this in an attempt to prevent several bills
from becoming law, however, their plan is not working. Their actions are only serving to prevent
other bills from going through the process.
One frustrating thing about the use of these tactics is those doing the filibustering are not
even talking about the bills themselves but are bringing up topics having no bearing on the
legislation in question. These senators are also leveling brutal verbal attacks at other members
of the body. This behavior seems rather counterproductive. In my opinion, accusatory and
slanderous words are certainly no way to win others to your side of an issue.
As in much of society, it might be assumed good behavior would rule the day. However, we are
seeing more self-absorbed, self-centered, self-serving behavior impacting government,
business and homes across our culture, and this is merely being reflected here in Lincoln.
There are rules addressing these matters, however, because these tactics have never been
this brazen before, there is no precedent to follow and none of them seem to have the self-
discipline to rein in their rhetoric. Unlike the notorious Ernie Chambers, not one of them have
been strategic in their comments and tactics.
One would think a lawmaking assembly would operate much like a court of law where, if
someone speaking strays off course, the presiding official would rule them out of order as a way
to nudge them back on course. Unfortunately, such has not been the case in the Senate this
Getting back to our daily timeline, when the work day is done there are often 50 -100 emails to
read through and preparations to be made for the next day. Every legislator is expected to be
the resident expert on the bills he or she has sponsored and this requires much preparation.
Speaking of emails, it seems counterintuitive to me to write a letter of complaint to anyone—be
it an elected official, a company or a neighbor—which personally berates, belittles or attacks that
individual. Do they think such tactics will magically bring the person over to their side? The Good Book
says when speaking truth to another person, you should do so in an effort to “strengthen, encourage
and comfort them.”
As with the noon hour, evenings during the session are often filled with events and receptions
sponsored by some organization and sometimes there are more than one which makes for a
If you think about it, being a legislator is a bit like being a farmer. You have extremely long days
(12-15 hours), you are often pulled in many directions by competing priorities and there are lots
of disappointments. But, like a farmer when the harvest is done, at the end of the session one
can look back and see much accomplished for good! Overall, it has been a good ride and the
gain is certainly worth it.