No school bells rang but class definitely began this week for Nebraska’s newest lawmakers. At the lectern was Professor Ernie Chambers, the longest-serving state senator in history and an acknowledged master of the legislative process. Term limits forced him out of the Legislature for the last four years, which means several members of the body missed out on his previous lessons.
Chambers used the first bill debates of the session to demonstrate the care that lawmakers should take in considering legislation. But he started the day with plenty of advice. Develop a thick skin, he said. “If you come here with your feelings on your sleeve, your fingertips, they’re going to get hurt,” he said.
Don’t be intimidated by others, even if you are one of the newer senators. But Chambers warned he will not back off when confronted with what he considers bad legislation. “When these troglodytes come forward with these horrendous bills, I will fight them,” he said.
Chambers advised lawmakers to take their position seriously and be diligent in reading, thinking and questioning. Don’t just accept the information others provide. “Words have power, and senators’ words should be well thought out, well spoken and well written in statutes,” he said.
He also said the Legislature should not take a back seat to anyone, whether it be the governor, the chief justice or a lobbyist. “In this state, the Legislature is paramount,” he said.