Nebraska Legislature hears nine hours of comments on prayer, secret ballots and more

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – From dropping the opening prayer to allowing firearms in the State Capitol, many topics were discussed Thursday at the public hearing on the Legislature’s rules.

Dozens gathered to give their opinions in a nine-hour public hearing before the Rules Committee.

Any rule changes that are passed would go into effect next year.

Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha introduced a rule to end the tradition of opening every day of the legislative session with prayer.

Her proposal found some support but was overwhelmingly opposed in the hearing.

“When we have prayer to open up a government activity, it’s making a huge assumption,” said Carol Windrum of Omaha, who was in support of the rule. “This body represents all Nebraskans. It represents me as a Christian, but it represents Buddhists and Hindus and atheists, and I think that’s what makes our state such a wonderful place.”

But another testifier, Jennifer Hicks, disagreed.

“It is disingenuous that we sit here and talk about rules. The reason we don’t have rules is because we don’t have accountability,” Hicks said. “We don’t have accountability because we rejected God, so you damn sure shouldn’t get rid of the prayer.”

Hunt’s rule wasn’t the only controversial proposal.

Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings wants to get rid of the Legislature’s secret ballots.

Right now, senators can vote for the speaker and committee chairs with secret ballots.

Halloran said senators’ votes for bills and amendments are public, so leadership votes should be as well.

“It’s all about transparency,” he said. “To me, it’s a non-starter. They want to keep it secret so that deals can be made on chairmanships. Just have an open vote.”

Opponents say public votes would pressure senators to vote along their party lines instead of choosing the best candidate.

“It may appear like it’s not as transparent, but really, it allows for a genuine vote on who is the best suited for these leadership roles,” said Nathan Leach, founder and executive director of Nonpartisan Nebraska.

Other rules that were brought up include changes to how redistricting is done and prohibiting firearms in legislative spaces except for military and law enforcement personnel.

The committee is expected to decide which proposed rules to advance soon, and the rules will then be debated on the floor.

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