Don't Let Me Stop You

What the heck, you'll do what you want anyway.

Nebraska Unicameral

Posted by Dan Draney on April 14, 2006

The Nebraska Unicameral, our 1-house legislature, wrapped up this year’s 60-day session yesterday. Due to the term limits amendment it was the last day of the last session for 20 of the 49 senators. According to observers quoted by JournalStar.com the session was special:

Productive. Incredible. That was the mantra as senators themselves and those around them looked back over the short session. “They didn’t waiver. They wrestled with almost all the major issues,” said Larry Ruth, a veteran lobbyist. “It’s one of the more extraordinary sessions.”

“This was a mature Legislature that wasn’t afraid to deal with things,” said lobbyist Walt Radcliffe. “It was the antithesis of inaction.”

We’re not so sure the opinions of two lobbyists should be taken as the definitive word on the quality of a legislative session. Nor do we think the number of new laws is a measure of quality. It’s true, however, that this session did accomplish quite a lot, as detailed in the full article.

One example is the legalization of “concealed carry” of guns. This modest step, already legal in 48 other states, has evoked much wailing and gnashing of teeth as Gunscribe reports. Apparently, some feel that allowing law-abiding citizens to carry guns, as criminals already do, will somehow increase crime.

Accepting the idea that this was a particularly good Unicameral session, let’s ask why that might be. Could term limits be a factor? Arguably, the minds of 40% of the senators may have become concentrated by the knowledge that they won’t be back next year. It’s indisputable that this knowledge would make one less averse to tackling “controversial” issues. It’s those senators’ last chance to make a mark, to get their pet bill passed, to moderate the effects of a bill they don’t support, but see as inevitable…

The next Unicameral will have the most new faces of any in our memory. Since half come up for election to a 4-year term every 2 years, no more than 5/25 (or 4/24) of this group have been there less than 6 years (1.5 terms). The Journal Star article states that 20 term-limited senators have a total of 244 years in the Unicameral, with Lincoln’s Dave Landis the longest resident at 28 years. The mean time in power for the 20 is then just over 12 years. It would be interesting to see a histogram, the median, and the mode for the whole legislature.

We can’t help but think that, on the whole, having 20 new senators next year will be A Good Thing. The outgoing group can run again in another 4 years (2 years, if they move to another district), or run for any other office.

Update: Fixed an embarassing reference to Gunscribe as “Gunsmith” in the link above.

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