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The 2015 legislative session was a year of tough decisions -- the most difficult of Speaker Galen Hadley's seven years, he told senators Friday shortly before they adjourned sine die. 

The list went on: prison crowding, the repeal of the death penalty, property tax relief, balancing a two-year budget, allowing driver's licenses for some children of undocumented immigrants, raising the gas tax and addressing proposals to legalize medical marijuana and eliminate the use of motorcycle helmets. 

He told the final gathering of senators for the year he was proud of the 18 new members who started their terms this session. It was a class that hit the ground running like no other. 

"I think the Class of 2015 in this Legislature could be the class that the stars fell on in the Legislature," he said. "Might of hit a couple of them in the head, I'm not sure about that."

The Legislature was able to pass a two-year budget this year, with no vetoes to the mainline bill. Nebraska's average general fund spending growth of 3.5 percent per year was the fifth lowest of the past 15 two-year budgets. 

"We worked closely with the governor to come in with a reasonable budget that helps Nebraska while trying to put a lid on growth and spending," he said. 

Two states, he said, have not been able to adjourn because they can't balance their budgets. The infant daughter of Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, who sits on the Legislature's Appropriations Committee, let out a wail just after that news. 

"Thank you," Hadley said. 

Hadley harkened back to his first year in the Legislature when senators killed bills requiring a mere $1,000 in spending because the state didn't have any money to spare. 

"I think it's very prudent to have an appropriate cash reserve," he said. "I think some time in the near future it's going to come in very handy." 

That rainy day fund stood at $684.8 million Friday. 

Hadley said by ending on the 89th rather than the 90th day, it saved the state another $10,203.

In all, the Legislature passed 247 bills this session, and amended another 25 into other bills, for a total of 272. 

Eighty of 107 priority bills introduced by senators, committees and the speaker passed into law this session, three of them via veto overrides.

Hadley thanked the legislative staff for their tireless work to ensure senators could accomplish their work. And he assured the state that although the Legislature was adjourning sine die, the work was not complete and would continue throughout the interim. 

Nordquist gave his last speech of his legislative career, as he will resign at the end of June to become Rep. Brad Ashford's chief of staff in Washington.

He thanked two senators in particular, Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell and Omaha Sen. Heath Mello. 

"Sen. Campbell, thank you for being a great partner on so many issues, and thank you for always being willing to sign my bills so I can call them bipartisan," the Democrat said.

And he said he didn't want senators to think he was a big deal, "but the chairman of the Appropriations Committee has been my driver for the last seven years."

He told his fellow senators that it's easy today to be cynical about what they do and about each other. It's more difficult to disagree with someone on merit without questioning their motives and integrity.

"And the truth is, I can say without reservation you are all here for the right reason. You all want to make the state a better place to live," he said.  

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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