Update, December 1, 2015, 6:00 p.m.: Due to a correction to the data in another state, Nebraska's rank has changed to tied for 9th overall.
Nebraskans are almost as proud of their unique legislative tradition as they are of their Cornhusker football tradition — perhaps more so in recent years, as the former arguably has fared better than the latter.
The state’s nonpartisan, single-house legislature, only 49 members strong, was legendary legislator George Norris’s brainchild, approved by Nebraskans in 1934. He sought to limit partisanship and create a more efficient lawmaking body.
In many respects, he succeeded: although the Unicameral is dominated by Republicans in one of the nation’s reddest states, lawmakers are relatively free to vote their consciences, rather than follow a party line. For example, legislative leaders are elected through a public vote of their fellow lawmakers, which has resulted in a fairly even party split of committee chairs, and all bills get a public hearing and, with a single chamber, a fairly straightforward path to action.
But other circumstances that have evolved over the decades might give Norris pause. There are no revolving-door laws governing former elected officials’ employment after they leave office. Term limits tend to give more power to lobbyists as the institutional memory of the Legislature. A wide-open campaign-finance system favors the wealthy or those with access to the wealthy.
It’s a mixed bag reflected in a score of 67 — a D+ — for Nebraska in the new State Integrity Investigation conducted by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity. The score actually ranks Nebraska tied for 9th in the nation.
It’s a drop from the B- Nebraska received in the 2012 report, good for 5th in the nation. But the two scores are not directly comparable due to changes made to improve and update the questions and methodology, such as eliminating the category for redistricting, a process that generally occurs only once every 10 years.