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Senators seek to limit legislative sessions
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Senators seek to limit legislative sessions

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Omaha Sen. Pete Pirsch would like to increase the candidate pool for the Legislature and save the state some money.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist would like to cut the number of days that take citizen legislators away from the farm, the job, communities and families, and also save the state money.

Both told the Legislature's Executive Board on Friday they have proposals that would accomplish those goals, with a vote of the people.

Pirsch's constitutional amendment (LR44CA) would require the Legislature to hold regular, 90-day sessions that begin on the first Wednesday in February in odd-numbered years. No sessions would be held in even-numbered years.

Four state legislatures meet only every other year, including Texas, North Dakota, Montana and Nevada, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Texas bicameral legislature meets in odd-numbered years for as many as 140 days.  

Oregon just began annual sessions this year after voters gave strong support late last year to the proposal. They had turned down the option in 1970, '74 and '90.

The arguments for every-other-year sessions, according to the national conference, are these. 

* They cut down on the number of bills that are not well thought out.

* There is less legislative harassment of the administration and its agencies.

* Time between sessions can be used to study and develop proposed legislation.

* Legislators can spend more time with constituents and mending political fences.

* It saves money.  

Pirsch said starting in February would cut down on winter driving hazards that happen so frequently in January. Many senators who live outside Lincoln go home either nightly or on weekends.

Krist's proposed constitutional amendment would keep annual sessions but cut the number of days to 60 in odd-numbered years and 45 in even-numbered years.

Special sessions still could be called at any time if needed.

"I believe 150 legislative days over a biennium in our part-time legislature is excessive," Krist said.

Twenty states meet fewer days than Nebraska, he said. Virginia, a state with four-and-a-half times Nebraska's population, meets 60 fewer days.

Fewer days would mean more meaningful bills, he said, with more time to investigate and research their impact.

And reducing the number of days by one-third could save as much as $400,000.

Sen. Lavon Heidemann, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he couldn't see that anything less than 90 days in the first year of a two-year session would be enough to build the state budget. The process takes time.

It would not be easy, Krist said, but there would be potential benefits.

Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com.

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