As I begin working on legislation for 2024, I want to update you on some of my priorities.
As you may recall, the first bill I introduced in the Nebraska Legislature was LB 31, the two-person crew bill. This bill would require all Class 1 railroad companies operating in Nebraska to have both an engineer and a conductor in the cab of the lead locomotive. By making this practice law, it would make certain that this current requirement would not be eliminated through any future collective bargaining agreements.
As trains have become longer, current technology has advanced but not to the point of keeping up with safety needs. The conductor is the only one available to be there to assist the engineer should a problem occur and is, in many cases, the only one available to be a first responder in the event of an accident. When an accident occurs, the engineer is busy securing the train in the cab of the lead engine. The conductor is the only one available to leave the train with the train manifest to provide real-time information about the contents of each car.
We would all like to think that the trains are safe and risks to the public are minimal. But the most recent report issued by the Federal Rail Administration that cited numerous safety violations of engines and cars in our own Bailey Yard is further evidence that the two-person crew is more important now than ever before. I also believe that the explosion and fire that occurred in Bailey Yard this past week gives the public a much better perspective of the kind of hazardous material that rolls down the tracks every day.
We were fortunate that the accident occurred when and where it did, but what if it had happened in the middle of town along the way? How would the first responders even know what the car was carrying?
One alternative that has been proposed is having individuals on call along the route who can drive to an accident site. But waiting for someone to drive to the site would be unacceptable.
Last year, it was both my hope and the railroads’ hope that either the FRA or Congress would step in to deal with this issue on a federal level, but no federal action has been taken. In addition, the filibusters in the 2023 section forced senators to work together to determine our most urgent priorities. For these reasons, I allowed my bill to stay in committee and did not try to pull the bill from committee to the floor. However, I made it clear that it would become my personal priority bill this year if nothing was done between now and January 2024.
The time for waiting to codify the two-person crew language for Class I railroads needs to end.
For that reason, I am committed to prioritizing LB 31 in January so that the bill can be voted out of committee and moved through the legislative process. Our railroad workers and the public deserve no less.
It is important to lay out once again what I call the “math of the Legislature.” It takes a majority vote of the members of the committee where a bill is referenced to get the bill to the floor. But the committee chair must be willing to hold a vote. Once the bill is voted out of committee, it waits to be scheduled for debate by the Speaker. Priority bills automatically come ahead of unprioritized legislation, but otherwise, the order in which bills are considered on the floor is at the Speaker’s discretion.
Once the bill is scheduled, it must receive 25 “yes” votes to advance on all three rounds of debate (General File, Select File, and Final Reading). If there is a filibuster, it takes 33 “yes” votes to cease debate and allow a vote. If the bill passes on Final Reading, it is signed by the President of the Legislature and forwarded to the governor for his signature. The governor can sign the bill or issue a veto. It takes 30 “yes” votes to override a gubernatorial veto. If, at any time during the process, the bill fails to get enough votes to advance, the bill dies.
You will note that the number of needed votes is based on “yes” votes. A senator may vote “yes” or “no,” or there may be instances where they don’t cast a vote. Senators who were absent for a vote will be listed as “excused not voting” and senators who could have voted but didn’t will be listed as “present not voting;” those votes have the effect of a “no” vote.
Thare a number of reasons a senator may be “present not voting.” One could be that they do not want to go on record one way or the other, but it also could also be that votes are happening quickly and the senator is off of the floor meeting with constituents or tending to other business. The body will only wait for all senators to vote if there is a “call of the house.”
If the vote is important, there generally is a call of the house.
Personally, I take voting seriously and do my best never to miss a vote. I’m also not afraid to vote “yes” or “no,” even if the topic is controversial or complicated. I believe strongly in transparency.
If you have an issue you want to discuss, please feel free to reach out to me directly at email@example.com or 402-471-2729. My door is always open.
Mike Jacobson represents District 42 — the counites of Lincoln, Logan, McPherson, Thomas, Hooker and most of Perkins in the state legislature.
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