With the 2022 legislative session now in full swing, the Nebraska Early Childhood Policy Leadership Academy (PLA) focused its January workshop on how citizen advocates can influence the policymaking process in state government. The online event featured a slate of presenters that included two former state senators and one current senator, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and Unicameral enthusiast, and First Five Nebraska’s own Jodi-Renee Giron, who coordinates the Academy.
“The state policy workshop is always a highlight of the PLA program,” said Giron. “We have a growing number of citizens who care deeply about the ways public policies affect children, families and communities. When we’re empowered to play a meaningful role in the legislative process, it builds trust between legislators and constituents. It fosters governmental transparency and community leadership. Best of all, it leads to better informed and more effective policies for our youngest Nebraskans.”
The unique Unicameral
The day’s program began with a discussion led by Drew Scheldt, J.D., on the history and virtues of Nebraska’s one-house legislative system. Scheldt, a practicing lawyer in Washington, D.C., is a native of Broken Bow, a former legislative page and a lifelong Unicameral enthusiast. He compared Nebraska’s system to bicameral structures, arguing that the efficiency of the single-house structure makes it far easier for citizens to understand and engage with state government. “When the system is too complex, it’s harder to hold our representatives accountable,” said Schendt.
Former state senator and FFN Policy Associate Sara Howard outlined the stages a bill passes through on its way to becoming law in Nebraska. The group was also joined by former senator and current Nebraska Tax Commissioner Tony Fulton, who explained the principles of fiscal planning at the state level and how it influences legislation. The day’s program concluded with a special visit from State Senator Matt Williams (District 36), who offered his encouragement to Policy Leadership Academy participants in their work as advocates for young children.
‘It’s about relationships’
“How can one person make a difference?” asked Williams. “Its about relationships. You should know your senator. You should be sure your senator knows you. Each senator represents about 40,000 people we call constituents inside the geographical boundaries of our district. No, we don’t know all 40,000 people—but we sure know those who reach out to us and help us learn about topics that you’re the expert on, and we’re not.”
The Policy Leadership Academy will reconvene in Lincoln next month for a day-long visit to the Legislature, where participants will attend committee hearings, watch floor debate and meet with their district senators and legislative staff.