Senator proposes to block reporters from executive sessions in Nebraska Legislature

Media representative says conducting business behind closed doors reduces transparency, sows distrust

By: - January 11, 2023 6:20 pm
Nebraska State Capitol

The leader of a Capitol Bible study group says carvings on the Nebraska State Capitol include Christian leaders like Moses and Solomon. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — A state senator is launching another effort to bar reporters from covering discussions and actions taken during executive sessions of Nebraska legislative committees.

Under current legislative rules, reporters are allowed to attend the closed-door executive sessions of committees so they “may report on action taken and on all discussions in executive session.”

So-called “exec sessions” are where panels of lawmakers debate bills and decide whether or not to advance them for debate by the full, 49-member Unicameral Legislature. Under rules of the Legislature, they are to be closed to the media only for “rare and extraordinary circumstances.”

But State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard has proposed a rule change, to be considered during a public hearing Thursday afternoon, to block reporters from exec sessions. A similar proposal was introduced two years ago but failed to advance.

Steve Erdman
State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Erdman, a former county commissioner, said that when county boards and school boards go into executive sessions, news reporters are excluded.

‘Peculiar to me’

“It was peculiar to me the first day I got here that the media was allowed in,” the senator said. He said it gave reporters “an advantage” over the public to attend exec sessions.

Erdman said the rule should be amended to say “no one or everyone.”

A Nebraska media representative said executive sessions at the Unicameral are much different from those for local governing boards, where closed-door sessions are allowed only for delicate subjects, such as labor negotiations or firing an employee.

Rose Ann Shannon, president of Media of Nebraska, said barring news media from reporting on routine actions within exec sessions is the wrong move at a time when distrust in institutions is on the increase.

Undermines ‘trust in government’

“The change has the potential to reduce transparency and undermine trust in government and impact the accuracy of reporting on important legislative matters,” Shannon said.

The rule allowing media to attend exec sessions and report on the sessions dates back to 1982. Prior to 1955, legislative rules were silent on reporters and exec sessions, according to Nebraska Public Media, which is when news reporters were allowed to attend but discussions were confidential.

The Rules Commission will consider an unusually high number of rules changes — 55 — during its public hearing Thursday.

Proposals include barring firearms inside the State Capitol except by military and law enforcement personnel, limiting each senator to introducing no more than 12 bills a session, and eliminating the daily prayer before a session begins.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.