Nebraska Legislature

As students prepare to go back to college this fall, they must also prepare for the classic back to school small talk. “What did you do this summer?” “How was quarantine?” and since it’s 2020, plenty of “I haven’t seen you since the plague” jokes.

I am sure you will hear some people talk about their new Netflix show addictions and the protests they attended. But what if I told you there’s a way to get the best of both worlds while doing the same activity? What if I told you that you could lay on your couch with a bowl of ice cream watching TV while also becoming informed on issues that matter and watching the democratic process at work? It’s called the Nebraska Legislature.  

You may think I am a cheesy 65-year-old civics teacher trying to make a boring subject matter seem cool. And despite outwardly being a 19-year-old college student, I still may be a 65-year-old civics teacher at heart. 

Sadly, I cannot guarantee that telling your classmates that you watched the 106th Nebraska Legislature debate legislation during your summer break will make you the coolest kid on campus.

I can say that the activity is well worth your time, however.

First of all, the work of the Nebraska Legislature is important, and if you are taking the time to read the opinion section of The Daily Nebraskan, or paid even the slightest attention in your high school civics class, you probably already recognize that.

In the last week alone, the legislature has debated everything from abortion to climate change to police accountability. Surely you have an opinion on at least one of these things.

However, I understand that watching government in action, especially on a state or local level, can sometimes be boring and full of jargon. Why are there so many rounds of debate? Who even is this Robert and why does he get to make the rules? It is not always as simple as Bill from Schoolhouse Rock makes it seem. 

This summer, the Nebraska unicameral has also been even more contentious than usual.

Along with intense debate about legislation, there have been accusations of a middle finger given to another senator, legislators sitting up in the balcony of the chamber due to COVID-19 exposures, and an ongoing feud between Sen. Ernie Chambers and Sen. Julie Slama about a campaign mailer that some considered to be racist

The Nebraska Republican Party is even calling for the expulsion of State Sen. Ernie Chambers after a rant they considered to be misogynistic, a story that made it into a national right-wing media article.

All of this led Journal Star reporter JoAnne Young to question in a tweet if the legislature can even make it through the end of its session, and not only because of COVID-19.

While the legislature will likely make it through the 15 days, Speaker Jim Scheer had to call a timeout on Friday because he did not want the session to disintegrate any further. 

Civil discourse is, in my view, the best way to debate important legislation and is a virtue that should be sought after, but on the flip side, the antics make watching the legislature far more entertaining. And in order to convince people to watch the legislature, and not just as something to put on to help you fall asleep, it does have to have some drama.

Whether you agree with Donald Trump or not, his brash style of debate brought record viewership to Republican debates in 2015, and three years later, a record turnout for a midterm election. 

So even if the state legislature is not going to be civil, perhaps that negative can result in more people paying attention, which is vital for Nebraska’s democracy in the long term. 

Luckily, you do not have to go inside the state capital in order to watch the legislature debate. NET Nebraska, Nebraska’s public television station, televises the debates. If you do not have access to a TV with that channel, you can also watch livestreams on their website

Twitter is another great way to stay updated on the important events happening in the unicameral, especially if you do not have time to sit and watch hours of legislative livestreams every day.

Here are a couple of accounts that are worth a follow if you are just getting into understanding what is going on in the capital and want to get to know some senators a little bit better.

@UnicamUpdate

As its Twitter bio would suggest, this account is for the official publication of the Nebraska Legislature, Unicameral Update. While you probably will not see any spicy tweets or memes from this account, it will provide you with links to the publication’s articles about legislation in the unicameral. 

@LJSLegislature

This is the account for Lincoln Journal Star reporter JoAnne Young. The Journal Star is one of the few papers lucky enough to have a statehouse reporter, and Young’s Twitter account helps you stay up to date on the happenings at the capital. You can expect informative tweets that summarize the main points of debate that legislators bring up.

@Adam_Morfeld

Senator Adam Morfeld represents the 46th District in the Nebraska Legislature, which includes UNL’s campus and much of northeast Lincoln. Morfeld is one of the most active Nebraska legislators on Twitter, and while a majority of his content is political, he occasionally tweets about other things, such as his lost iPhone chargers.

@NebraskaMegan

This is the Twitter account for Senator Megan Hunt, who represents the 8th District in the legislature, which includes midtown Omaha. Hunt, a self-described “bi-queen,” is a very progressive member of the unicameral and tweets about issues at the local, state and federal levels with the occasional gifs and jokes as well. She is the most followed State Senator on Twitter for a reason.

@NEGOP

None of the conservative members of the unicameral are nearly as active on Twitter as Morfeld and Hunt, but in order to get a more conservative perspective of the state legislature, you should follow the official account of the Nebraska Republican Party. However, this account also goes beyond state issues, so you can expect to hear about nationally debated issues from a Nebraska Republican perspective as well.  

Honorable mention: State Senator Ernie Chambers

Sen. Chambers does not have a Twitter, nor does he even have an email address, but if you watch the legislature for any period of time in the next two weeks, you are sure to know his name. Luckily, the Lincoln Journal Star put together some of his best quotes in an article for his 80th birthday, which together could make up an excellent Twitter feed. Whether you agree with him or not, he certainly has a lot of wit.

Of course, these are not the only legislators or political commentators out there to follow on Twitter, but this is definitely a good group to start with, as all of them are pretty active. And while Sen. Chambers is not active on Twitter, he is certain to be active in debate, and his comments will often come up in the other accounts

So there is your brief introduction to the Nebraska Legislature. It will be in session until Aug. 13, and you can find the remaining livestream schedule here.

Start getting your popcorn ready.

Brian Beach is a sophomore journalism major. Reach him at brianbeach@dailynebraskan.com