What was called the "Nebraska Experiment" in the mid-1930s and ultimately implemented in 1937 remains with us today, 77 years later.
The Nebraska Unicameral, a one-house legislature, is the only state legislative structure like it in the nation. For all intense and purposes, a single body of 49 senators is still generally supported across the state. Nebraskans were practical and conservative then, even during an era of new federal programs designed to pull the country out of the Depression, and the majority of those residents favored a more streamlined, accessible government.
U.S. Sen. George Norris of McCook certainly did. The arguments for and against moving from a bicameral to a unicameral legislature were intense on both sides, of course, but Norris, the architect of the reform, claimed the two-house system was outdated and inefficient.
A Republican throughout most of his career who often sided with Democrats and not-so-conservative causes, Norris fought hard against the "behind-the-scenes actions" of the conference committees in two-house legislatures, committees he thought had too much power. Also, paying for 49 senators was easier on the state budget than paying for the combined 133 in both the House and Senate in the Nebraska Legislature prior to the Unicameral system.
In my view, if there is one drawback of this structure, it's the lessening of agriculture and rural influence in a Unicameral that, due to population shifts, has increasingly gained more senators from Omaha, Lincoln and other non-rural regions of the state.
I bring up this issue of state government because of what I consider to be a more open form of governing, one that affords you easier access to your state senator than exists in a two-house legislature.
For one thing, in the Nebraska Unicameral, It's a requirement that every bill introduced receive a hearing. The non-partisan nature of the Nebraska Unicameral is unique, too. Since a legislative candidate's political party is not listed on the election ballot, the two candidates with the most votes in the primary election face off in the general election.
Take advantage of this accessibility during the session. Our January issue of Nebraska Farmer carries a list of state senators and their phone numbers.
Our senators need to hear from you on important issues this year. This is the "short" 60-day session and that usually means many bill won't get advanced, including some that should. And a bill or two will be enacted, of course, that should have been killed.
This is your chance to push state senators toward passage of property tax relief, which, if it happens, most likely will be in the form of a reduction in farmland valuations for tax purposes.
Other bills to watch for involve funding for water projects, eminent domain and property rights, branding areas, irrigation wells and meters, and a sales tax exemption on repairs and replacement parts for ag machinery.
The bottom line? Make your voice heard during this session of the Nebraska Unicameral.