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New senators sworn in as session begins

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LINCOLN — Twenty-six Nebraska state senators, including a new Sen. for District 40, all took their oaths of office last week.

More than a dozen leaders were also selected to fill out the ranks of the Legislature for the next two years.

The 108th Nebraska Legislature convened for the first day of a 90-day session, which is scheduled to end June 9. Nearly one-third of the senators (16) are brand new to the 49-member, officially nonpartisan body, while two senators are returning after previously serving.

Barry DeKay, Niobrara, was one of the new Senators. He replaces Tim Gragart of Creighton, who chose not to seek a second term in office.

One of the first responsibilities for senators on Wednesday was selecting leadership positions, including a successor to longtime clerk Patrick O’Donnell, who retired at the end of 2022. O’Donnell was first chosen as the assistant clerk in 1977 and had occupied the top position since 1978; legislators continued to reelect O’Donnell every subsequent two years.

Legislators chose a successor in Brandon Metzler, who has been an assistant clerk of the Legislature since 2017. Metzler will lead the clerk’s office, which ensures the chamber follows constitutional, statutory and policy requirements. State Sen. John Arch of La Vista is the next speaker of the Legislature. State Sens. Tom Briese of Albion and Ray Aguilar of Grand Island are the chair and vice chair, respectively, of the Executive Board.

State Sens. Eliot Bostar of Lincoln, Suzanne Geist of Lincoln, John Lowe of Kearney, Merv Riepe of Ralston, Julie Slama of Sterling and Tony Vargas of Omaha will fill the ranks of the Executive Board.

The following senators were chosen by secret ballot to chair the Legislature’s 14 standing committees, with those again selected for the positions denoted by an asterisk: Agriculture: Steve Halloran of Hastings* Appropriations: Robert Clements of Elmwood Banking, Commerce and Insurance: Julie Slama of Sterling Business and Labor: Merv Riepe of Ralston Education: Dave Murman of Glenvil General Affairs: John Lowe of Kearney Government, Military and Veterans Affairs: Tom Brewer of Gordon Health and Human Services: Ben Hansen of Blair Judiciary: Justin Wayne of Omaha Natural Resources: Bruce Bostelman of Brainard* Nebraska Retirement Systems: Mike McDonnell of Omaha Revenue: Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn* Transportation and Telecommunications: Suzanne Geist of Lincoln Urban Affairs: Terrell McKinney of Omaha Murman unseated State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont 32-17 to chair the Education Committee and Geist garnered 29 votes to chair the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee against State Sens. Tom Brandt of Plymouth and Moser.

The Committee on Committees, which provides committee assignments, and Rules Committee, a short-term committee that considers changes to legislative rules, also have new chairs. They are, respectively, State Sens. Joni Albrecht of Thurston and Steve Erdman of Bayard.

Erdman won 33-15 votes over State Sen. John Cavanaugh of Omaha to serve as chair, with senators avoiding debate on Wednesday — at least for now — on whether to amend the rules to make committee chair selections public.

In recent sessions, a preliminary list of committee assignments has been available on the second day of the Legislature. Nebraskans can find out who their senator is through the Nebraska Legislature’s website and find each senator’s biography, office phone number and individual senator emails.

Bill introductions began last week and continue through Day 10 on Jan. 18.