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Will Legislature Begin with Secret Ballot Challenge?

Nebraska's 90-day legislative session is scheduled to run through June 2. (Jim Bowen/Flickr)
Nebraska's 90-day legislative session is scheduled to run through June 2. (Jim Bowen/Flickr)
January 3, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. – The way Nebraska lawmakers select their committee leadership is facing a possible challenge when the Legislature convenes tomorrow. Some lawmakers are reportedly pushing to end the use of secret ballots when voting on leadership roles, with the idea that a public vote would bring transparency to the legislature.

But John Hibbing, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, explained that the argument for keeping it secret is consistent with the vision of the unicameral system.

"If you started doing these things out in the open, where parties can kind of line up and make clear who they prefer and put overt pressure on their members to vote a certain way, then you've probably taken a pretty big step away from the bipartisan mission," he said.

State legislators will choose a new speaker and nine new committee leaders. Several senators signed an online pledge to support ending the use of secret ballots. However, past attempts to make the process public have been rejected.

Nebraska is the only state with a unicameral legislature, which this year is comprised of 32 Republicans, 15 Democrats, one Independent and one Libertarian. And Hibbing believes it will be an interesting session, as 17 of the 49 senators are freshmen.

"Conservatives have not always gotten their way, and the governor has been disappointed," he added. "Now, we've got some new faces, Democrats picked up a couple of seats but still are well in the minority. But clearly, there are some people on the Republican side that have been willing to vote with Democrats in the past, and maybe that will continue in the future.

The 90-day legislative session is scheduled to run through June 2.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NE