As lawyers, it is imperative that we are up to date on changes to the law and that our voices, as a profession, are represented in the legislative process. The NSBA’s Legislative Program serves both of these interests by educating our members on changes to the law and by ensuring that our members offer their legal expertise to vet proposed legislative changes.
Educating our Members
One of the most basic functions of the Legislative Program is to inform our members of changes to the law. Our Legislative Counsel reviews every bill introduced in the Nebraska Legislature and identifies bills that might be of interest to a particular NSBA Section or Committee, or to the profession in general (typically 100 to 120 bills each year). NSBA Legislative Counsel summarizes these bills, and these summaries are made available by topic area to the NSBA membership, so NSBA members can easily identify proposed legislation impacting their area of practice (e.g., family law; real estate, probate, and trust law; business law; or juvenile law). The NSBA maintains a Practice Tracker, and it sends out legislative updates throughout each legislative session with information on bills of interest. These provide up-to-date information as bills progress through the legislative process each year.
Serving the Public
As lawyers, our members are uniquely situated to review and impact proposed legislation. For example, because NSBA members are major participants in the court system, one of the most important functions of the Legislative Program is to protect, support, and improve the court system in Nebraska. Over the years, the NSBA, based on caseload statistics and jurisdictional needs, has advocated for new judgeships and opposed rural court closings. It has supported merit selection and retention of judges. And it has worked to create and defend the Judicial Resources Commission. The NSBA also has advocated for access to legal services by creating the Commission on Public Advocacy and establishing a grant fund for civil legal services.
Similarly, our members are stewards of, and sometimes the only ones shepherding, the Probate Code, the Business Corporation Act, or other acts or areas of law. Members’ expertise and input are essential to successfully updating or enacting laws in these areas. Leveraging our members’ expertise, the Legislative Program repeatedly has intervened to avoid unintended changes to the law – for example, the NSBA Legislative Program identified that a bill meant to modernize the probate code by making certain sections gender neutral inadvertently altered a component of intestate succession. The NSBA also has advocated affirmatively to modernize or amend aspects of Nebraska law so it works better for the public and for practitioners. This substantive work not only helps lawyers, as practitioners, but it also serves to protect the public, who relies on the Bar Association’s legal expertise in these areas.
Supporting the Profession
Like other professionals’ legislative programs (doctors, dentists, bankers, accountants, realtors, etc.), the NSBA Legislative Program also serves to represent and protect the professional interests of lawyers. Poorly drafted bills with implications for the profession too often are introduced. Worse, senators may threaten to introduce legislation on behalf of a constituent who is angry at a particular lawyer or the legal system generally. In these situations, our members must be represented and heard. Other times, bills are actively introduced on behalf of the NSBA to positively impact a certain area of law or aspect of practice. Together, these efforts ensure that our members have a voice in the legislative process, safeguarding and promoting the professional interests of our members. Representative issues for which the NSBA may take a position include: protecting the public from non-lawyer practice; retaining the current statute of limitations for lawyer malpractice; regulating trust accounts; ensuring legal services are not subject to sales tax; and maintaining availability of legal services.
When does the NSBA take a position on Legislation?
The NSBA Legislative Program and Policy Statement, reviewed and adopted by the House of Delegates, describes how the NSBA establishes a legislative position – supporting or opposing, or being neutral, on a bill. It starts with the Legislation Committee, who reviews relevant bills identified by the NSBA’s Legislative Counsel. Based on its review, the Legislation Committee recommends positions to the Executive Council. The Executive Council reviews these positions and makes recommendations to the House of Delegates. When the House of Delegates convenes, it reviews the recommendations of the Legislation Committee and Executive Council, and it votes, after further deliberation, to establish the position of the NSBA. To ensure that the Legislative Program is responsive to new developments during the legislative session, the Program and Policy Statement also provides a process to establish or change positions, if needed.