The Nebraska Legislature (also called the Unicameral)[1] is the supreme legislative body of the state of Nebraska. Its members are "senators." The legislature is officially unicameral and nonpartisan, making Nebraska unique among U.S. states; no other state has either a unicameral or a nonpartisan legislative body. With 49 members, it is also the smallest legislature of any U.S. state.


The First Nebraska Territorial Legislature met in Omaha in 1855, staying there until statehood was granted in 1867.[2] Nebraska originally operated under a bicameral legislature, but over time dissatisfaction with the bicameral system grew. Bills were lost because the two houses could not agree on a single version. Conference committees that formed to merge the two bills coming out of each chamber often met in secret, and thus were unaccountable for their actions. Campaigns to consolidate the Nebraska Legislature into a single chamber date back as early as 1913, meeting with mixed success.[3]

After a trip to Australia in 1931, George W. Norris, then U.S. Senator for Nebraska, campaigned for reform, arguing that the bicameral system was based on the non-democratic British House of Lords, and that it was pointless to have two bodies of people doing the same thing and hence wasting money. He specifically pointed to the example of the Australian state of Queensland, which had adopted a unicameral parliament nearly ten years before. In 1934, voters approved a constitutional amendment to take effect with the 1936 elections, abolishing the House of Representatives and granting its powers to the Senate.[4] The amendment was based on a bill to establish a unicameral legislature that had been introduced years earlier by Nebraska legislator and later U.S. Congressman John Nathaniel Norton.[citation needed]

Many possible reasons for the 1934 amendment's victory have been advanced: the popularity of George Norris; the Depression-era desire to cut costs; public dissatisfaction with the previous year's legislature; or even the fact that, by chance, it was on the ballot in the same year as an amendment to legalize parimutuel betting on horse races.[5] This latter coincidence may have aided the measure's passage in Omaha, where the unicameral issue was not a pressing one but horse racing was. (Gambling interests campaigned for "yes" votes on all amendments in hopes of assuring the horse-racing amendment's passage.)

The new unicameral Legislature met for the first time in 1937. Though the name of the body is formally the "Nebraska Legislature", its members are commonly referred to as "senators". In Nebraska, the Legislature is also often known as "the Unicameral".

Selection, composition, and operation

The Legislature is composed of 49 members, chosen by a single-member district or constituency. Senators are chosen for four-year terms, with one-half of the seats up for election every second year. In effect, this results in half the chamber being elected at the same time as the President of the United States, and the other half elected at the same time as other statewide elections. Senators must be qualified voters who are at least 21 years old and have lived in the district they wish to represent for at least one year. A constitutional amendment passed in 2000 limits senators to two consecutive terms. However, a former senator is re-eligible for election after four years. Senators receive $12,000 a year.

Members are selected in nonpartisan elections. Rather than separate primaries held to choose Republican, Democratic, and other partisan contenders for a seat, Nebraska uses a single nonpartisan primary election, in which the top two vote-getters are entitled to run in the general election. There are no formal party alignments or groups within the Legislature. Coalitions tend to form issue by issue based on a member's philosophy of government, geographic background, and constituency. However, almost all the members of the legislature are known to be either Democrats or Republicans, and the state branches of both parties explicitly endorse candidates for legislative seats.[6] As an illustration of how partisanship can intrude upon the officially nonpartisan chamber, in January 2010 it was reported that the Legislature debated whether or not there was partisanship in Legislature, and "then finished the talk with a vote that followed party lines."[7]

Sessions of the Nebraska Legislature last for 90 working days in odd-numbered years and 60 working days in even-numbered years.

President and Speaker

The Lieutenant Governor is the President of the Legislature and the official presiding officer. However, the highest position among the members is the Speaker, who presides over the Legislature in the absence of the Lieutenant Governor. The Speaker is elected by a floor ballot (or secret ballot) for a two-year term. Among his responsibilities, he provides the agenda for the Legislature, and he is expected to create the agenda in fair and nonpartisan way. The Speaker is not a member of any committee, but is an ex-officio member of the Rules Committee and the Executive Board.

Executive Board

The day-to-day matters of the body are dealt with by the Executive Board. The Board includes the Speaker, a chairman, a vice chairman, and six other senators. The chairman and vice chairman are chosen by floor ballot (or secret ballot) for two-year terms by the entire legislature. The chairman of the Appropriations Committee serves, but cannot vote on any matter, and can only speak on fiscal matters.

The Executive Board is also the Referencing Committee. All bills introduced are referenced by the Referencing Committee to the committee who's subject relates to the bill. Members of the Legislature may object to where a bill was referenced and may attempt re-refer the bill to a different committee by a majority vote.


Senators are classified into three geographically based "caucuses." Each caucus elects two board members who serve on the Executive Board and four members who serve on the Committee-on-Committees.

General powers

The Legislature is responsible for law-making in the state, but the Governor has the power to veto any bill. The Legislature may override the governor's veto by a vote of three-fifths (30) of its members. The Legislature also has the power, by a three-fifths vote, to propose a constitutional amendment to the voters, who then pass or reject it through a referendum.

Committees in the Legislature

Standing Committees:

  • Agriculture (8 members)
  • Appropriations (9 members)
  • Banking, Commerce and Insurance (8 members)
  • Business and Labor (7 members)
  • Education (8 members)
  • General Affairs (8 members)
  • Government, Military and Veterans Affairs (8 members)
  • Health and Human Services (7 members)
  • Judiciary (8 members)
  • Natural Resources (8 members)
  • Nebraska Retirement Systems (6 members)
  • Revenue (8 members)
  • Transportation and Telecommunications (8 members)
  • Urban Affairs (7 members)

Select Committees:

  • Committee on Committees (13 members)
  • Enrollment and Review (1 member)
  • Reference (9 members)
  • Rules (6 members)

Committee Selection and Election of Chairs

At the beginning of each biennium, the Legislature elects a Committee on Committees of thirteen members, one at large who is elected by all members from the floor of the Legislature by floor ballot (or secret ballot). Four members are from Districts 2, 3, 15, 16, 19, 21-29, 45, and 46; four from Districts 4-14, 18, 20, 31, 39, and 49; and four from Districts 1, 17, 30, 32-38, 40-44, 47, and 48. Each caucus elects its own four members to serve on the Committee on Committees. The Committee on Committees creates a report of the membership of all committees for the Legislature. The Legislature may approve the report with a majority vote or reject it, but may not amend the report. If the report is rejected, the Committee on Committees must start over and create a new committee membership report until the Legislature can adopt one.[8]

Committee chairs are elected on the first day of the 90-day session and serve until the end of the 60-day session. Committee chairs are elected directly by the entire membership of the Legislature. On the first day, those wishing to run for a committee chair give a brief speech as to why they believe they're qualified, and following the speeches for that committee, members use a ballot vote to choose who they wish to serve as committee chair.

History and Controversy of Chair Elections

From 1937-1939 each committee was allowed to choose its own chair; from 1941-1971 the Committee on Committees designated the committee chair; and from 1973 to presently committee chairs are chosen by ballot. The Speaker, Committee on Committee Chair, and the Chair and Vice Chair of the Executive Board have been chosen by floor ballot since the Unicameral's first day in 1937.

The ballot vote (also referred to as the "secret ballot," "nonpartisan floor ballot," or just "floor ballot") has become increasing controversial, especially among some Republicans who believe it gives politically moderate or liberal members a chance to become chairs. Some argue that a secret ballot is not transparent. Others say that the ballot vote insures members can select the most qualified candidate without regards for the political party of the members.[9][10]

This process is unique in Nebraska and began in 1937 when the Legislature became a Unicameral. Most legislative bodies in the United States give the Speaker/Majority Leader the power to appoint committee membership, as well as the committee chairs. This provision is key to the nonpartisan structure of the Legislature.


Note: The Nebraska Legislature is nonpartisan; members' party affiliations are for informational purposes only.
Republican-affiliated: 31 members
Democratic-affiliated: 16 members
Libertarian-affiliated: 1 member
Independent: 1 member

District Senator Party affiliation Residence Took office
1 Watermeier, DanDan Watermeier Republican Syracuse 2013
2 Clements, RobertRobert Clements Republican Elmwood 2017[a]
3 Blood, CarolCarol Blood Democratic Bellevue 2017
4 Hilkemann, RobertRobert Hilkemann Republican Omaha 2015
5 McDonnell, MikeMike McDonnell Democratic Omaha 2017
6 Thibodeau, TheresaTheresa Thibodeau Republican Omaha 2017
7 Vargas, TonyTony Vargas Democratic Omaha 2017
8 Harr, BurkeBurke Harr Democratic Omaha 2011
9 Howard, SaraSara Howard Democratic Omaha 2013
10 Krist, BobBob Krist Democratic[12][b] Omaha 2009[c]
11 Chambers, ErnieErnie Chambers Independent Omaha 2013[d]
12 Riepe, MervMerv Riepe Republican Ralston 2015
13 Wayne, JustinJustin Wayne Democratic Omaha 2017
14 Smith, JimJim Smith Republican Papillion 2011
15 Walz, LynneLynne Walz Democratic Fremont 2017
16 Brasch, LydiaLydia Brasch Republican Bancroft 2011
17 Albrecht, JoniJoni Albrecht Republican Hoskins 2017
18 Lindstrom, BrettBrett Lindstrom Republican Omaha 2015
19 Scheer, JimJim Scheer Republican Norfolk 2013
20 McCollister, John S.John S. McCollister Republican Omaha 2015
21 Hilgers, MikeMike Hilgers Republican Malcolm 2017
22 Schumacher, PaulPaul Schumacher Republican Columbus 2011
23 Bostelman, BruceBruce Bostelman Republican Wahoo 2017
24 Kolterman, MarkMark Kolterman Republican Seward 2015
25 Geist, SuzanneSuzanne Geist Republican Lincoln 2017
26 Hansen, MattMatt Hansen Democratic Lincoln 2015
27 Wishart, AnnaAnna Wishart Democratic Lincoln 2017
28 Brooks, Patty PansingPatty Pansing Brooks Democratic Lincoln 2015
29 Bolz, KateKate Bolz Democratic Lincoln 2013
30 Baker, RoyRoy Baker Republican Lincoln 2015
31 Kolowski, RickRick Kolowski Democratic Omaha 2013
32 Ebke, LauraLaura Ebke Libertarian Crete 2015
33 Halloran, SteveSteve Halloran Republican Hastings 2017
34 Friesen, CurtCurt Friesen Republican Henderson 2015
35 Quick, DanDan Quick Democratic Grand Island 2017
36 Williams, MattMatt Williams Republican Lexington 2015
37 Lowe, JohnJohn Lowe Republican Kearney 2017
38 Kuehn, JohnJohn Kuehn Republican Heartwell 2015
39 Linehan, Lou AnnLou Ann Linehan Republican Omaha 2017
40 Larson, TysonTyson Larson Republican O'Neill 2011
41 Briese, TomTom Briese Republican Cedar Rapids 2017
42 Groene, MikeMike Groene Republican North Platte 2015
43 Brewer, TomTom Brewer Republican Hyannis 2017
44 Hughes, DanDan Hughes Republican Venango 2015
45 Crawford, SueSue Crawford Democratic Bellevue 2013
46 Morfeld, AdamAdam Morfeld Democratic Lincoln 2015
47 Erdman, SteveSteve Erdman Republican Ogallala 2017
48 Stinner, JohnJohn Stinner Republican Gering 2015
49 Murante, JohnJohn Murante Republican Gretna 2013
  1. ^ Appointed Feb. 2017 by Gov. Pete Ricketts, following Sen. Bill Kintner's (R-Papillion) resignation amidst controversy. Will serve a short term that will last until after the 2018 statewide elections.[11]
  2. ^ Krist left the Republican Party in 2017 to mount an independent bid for Governor of Nebraska in 2018. In February 2018, Krist switched from being an Independent to the Democratic Party and took his campaign for Governor to the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
  3. ^ Appointed in 2009 to fill vacancy from Mike Friend's resignation. Krist's short term from this appointment does not count towards the term limit.
  4. ^ Second legislative stint. Chambers previously served from 1971–2009, prior to the introduction of term limits.

Past composition of the Legislature

See also


  1. ^ LTC. "Nebraska Legislature - About the Legislature". 
  2. ^ "More about Nebraska statehood, the location of the capital, and the story of the commissioner's homes", Nebraska State Historical Society. Retrieved 12/14/08.
  3. ^ Michael S. Dulaney, J.D., Ph.D., Executive Director, Nebraska Council of School Administrators. "The Nebraska Legislature: A Brief History". Retrieved 2008-09-07.  [dead link]
  4. ^ Williams, Beth (October 2013). Exploring Initiative and Referendum Law. Google Books: Routledge. p. 207. ISBN 9781317965268. Retrieved 10 January 2018. 
  5. ^ Berens, Charlene (2004). Power to the People: Social Choice and the Populist/Progressive Ideal. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America. p. 252. ISBN 978-0-7618-2763-4. 
  6. ^ See, e.g., lists of endorsed candidates for the Legislature on the webpages of both the Nebraska Democratic Party and the Nebraska Republican Party.
  7. ^ "Is There A Partisan or Non-Partisan Legislature in NE?", wowt.com, 2010-01-28.
  8. ^ "Rules of the Unicameral Legislature" (PDF). Nebraska Legislature Website. March 25, 2018. 
  9. ^ Bureau, Joe Duggan / World-Herald. "Nebraska Legislature Rules Committee votes against changing filibuster rules and ending the secret ballot for leadership positions". Omaha.com. Retrieved 2018-03-25. 
  10. ^ "Rules Committee Transcript 01/11/2017" (PDF). Nebraska Legislative Website. May 25, 2018. 
  11. ^ Nohr, Emily (February 7, 2017). "Cass County banker Robert Clements appointed to seat left open with Kintner's resignation". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved April 1, 2017. 
  12. ^ According to JoAnne Young, "Omaha Sen. Bob Krist announces his independent run for governor", Lincoln Journal Star, September 13, 2017, retrieved September 13, 2017

External links