Nebraska state senators formally initiate call for special session for racial justice


Zach Gilbert

Nebraska State Senator Megan Hunt speaks in front of the Nebraska State Capitol. Photo courtesy of the Nebraska State Legislature.

Eleven Nebraska state senators delivered a cosigned statement to the Nebraska Secretary of State’s office on Aug. 25, formally calling to reconvene the Nebraska Legislature for a special session dedicated to racial justice.

“The Legislature really needs to address the racial inequities in our state, whether it’s in the criminal justice system or whether it’s in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s response to that,” Sen. Justin Wayne said. “A special session will allow us to focus on those issues.”

Though the Legislature adjourned two weeks ago, the signed senators argue that the Legislature was unable to properly address racial struggles and COVID-related concerns during the regular session due to time constraints, since much of the session was devoted to passing a major tax package.

“It is critical that we take action now to address the disproportionate impact that this global pandemic is having on communities of color,” Sen. Tony Vargas said. “The Legislature did not take action when we reconvened last month, and it is our responsibility to be responsive to the changing needs of our communities now.”

Alongside Wayne and Vargas, senators Machaela Cavanaugh, Ernie Chambers, Matt Hansen, Sara Howard, Megan Hunt, Rick Kolowski, John McCollister, Adam Morfeld and Patty Pansing Brooks all cosigned the statement. The senators’ statement comes one week after 10 Nebraska organizations, including the ACLU of Nebraska and the Black Leaders Movement, made a joint public request for a special session of the Nebraska Legislature.

“I applaud my colleagues because I am convinced that they are acting in good faith,” Sen. Ernie Chambers said. “This that they’re doing is not going to make them popular. […] They know the governor is against it, but they’re doing it anyway. That is the definition of integrity.”

All 11 senators joined representatives from the supporting organizations to speak at the Capitol on Tuesday, stressing that these matters could not wait to be discussed until January 2021, when the Legislature is set to reconvene.

“Some may ask, ‘Why a Special Session, why not just wait until the next session?’” Sen. Megan Hunt said. “My answer to that is simple: the people who are impacted by systemic racism and the COVID-19 pandemic cannot wait. They expect their elected representatives to act now.”

Secretary of State Bob Evnen has been tasked with surveying all lawmakers in the Nebraska Legislature who are not listed on the statement. In order to force Gov. Ricketts to convene the Legislature once more, 33 of 49 state senators must support the idea of a special session, according to state law.

Gov. Ricketts also possesses the capability to convene the Legislature for a special session by executive decision, but a spokesperson has said that the governor has no intent on doing so.