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Don Walton: 2023 Legislature may face bumpy road ahead

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Nebraska State Sen. Lynne Walz nominates herself to be the chair of the Education Committee as the Nebraska Legislature reconvened in Lincoln on Wednesday. 

After the first few days of the 2023 Legislature there already is tension in the air.

Results of the opening day's leadership votes and subsequent recommendations for committee assignments have triggered allegations ranging from partisan behavior to a partisan takeover of the 2023 Legislature. 

That's a so-what given in other legislatures, but this is Nebraska's non-partisan Legislature where party jerseys are supposed to be checked at the door.

In the most-watched leadership battle, Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, a Democrat, was denied reelection as chairwoman of the Legislature's Education Committee and replaced by Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil, a Republican, on a 32-17 vote. 

Although that's a secret-ballot vote, it's the exact split between Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature.

The Education Committee will be where much of Republican Gov. Jim Pillen's early priorities will be under consideration, including a dramatic revision of the state's school aid formula.   

Committee assignments proposed by the Legislature's Committee on Committees quickly came under fire from Democrats and were temporarily trapped on Friday.

Day 3 of the 90-day session concluded with a punt.

Decisions on committee assignments were delayed until Monday with the Legislature off to a sour start and senators who are Democrats voicing their objections. 

Still ahead lies a potential rules battle that could be a drag on the 2023 session as a rules standoff in 2017 came to be.

A 32-17 split gives the Republican members a huge advantage, but it's also a mathematical division that arms Democratic members with the power of the filibuster.

With 33 votes required to successfully end a filibuster, Democrats can wield a decisive weapon when they are united.

It would be foolish to guess what lies ahead — so, of course, let's do it.

A preliminary glance at committee membership suggests that most of the divisive legislation supported by senators who are Republicans and opposed by senators who are Democrats is likely to reach the floor and be positioned to move ahead toward enactment.

If so, that's an early sign that this may be a Legislature marked by filibusters.

But there's always an avenue available for some meaningful negotiation within committees to try to reach some agreement or compromise there, perhaps with some proposed amendments, before a bill is moved to the floor. 

However, some hard lines already may have been drawn after a sour start.

As senators headed home for the weekend, it looked like stormy weather ahead.

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Only two of the last nine governors have come from outside of Lincoln or Omaha.

Jim Pillen of Columbus joins Dave Heineman of Fremont on that short list.

Heineman became governor in 2005 when Mike Johanns resigned to become secretary of agriculture in the George W. Bush administration and then Heineman was elected governor in 2006 and 2010.

Former Gov. Pete Ricketts, who succeeded Heineman, hails from Omaha as does former Gov. Ben Nelson.

The string of governors from Lincoln include Johanns, Kay Orr, Bob Kerrey, Charles Thone and Jim Exon. 

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Finishing up:

* As the Nebraska Legislature approaches tax reduction and spending decisions, the latest University of Nebraska-Lincoln's economic report forecasts no growth in the Nebraska economy during the first half of 2023.

* The Appropriations Committee's nine-member lineup recommended by the Committee on Committees includes a single senator who hails from Lincoln, Sen. Anna Wishart, after rejection of Sen. Danielle Conrad's bid to return to the committee on which she served during her previous two terms in the Legislature. 

* Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saluted Sen. Ben Sasse as "one of the Senate's big thinkers" upon his resignation, which became effective on Sunday.

* If former Gov. Pete Ricketts is appointed to the Senate by Gov. Jim Pillen as expected, he will be the fifth governor among the last eight to move on to the Senate. Bob Kerrey, Ben Nelson, Mike Johanns and Jim Exon preceded him.

* Gov. Pillen saluted Tom Osborne, his former Husker football coach, during his inaugural address by recalling Osborne's challenge to Husker players: "Every day, we either decide to put in the effort to get better or we allow ourselves to get worse.  We never stay the same."

* Recent legislative committee assignments have bottled up some conservative priorities in the Legislature's Government and Military Affairs Committee, but it looks like new assignments recommended by the Legislature's Committee on Committees would free up Republican-crafted legislation like voter photo ID implementation requirements for movement to the floor this year.

* Considering Pillen's expressed goals, the Legislature's Education Committee could be Ground Zero in the 2023 legislative session. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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