Legislative Speaker answers Cavanaugh filibuster by moving up long nights of legislative debate 

By: - March 14, 2023 11:25 am

Speaker of the Legislature John Arch (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

LINCOLN — Speaker of the Legislature John Arch on Tuesday spelled out the first price he will exact for the persistent filibuster by State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha and others slowing the legislative session to limit how much legislation gets discussed.

State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha presents legislation on Wednesday, March 8, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Arch announced that he would start scheduling floor debate into the evening hours two weeks sooner than planned, on Tuesday March 28. That is the first session day after public hearings on legislative bills are completed. Nighttime floor debate had been expected to start no sooner than April 11. 

“This approach will prevent us from getting to many of our priority bills, but it will not dictate which bills those will be,” Arch said of the filibuster. “Both sides of the difficult social issues have stated their positions with little room for compromise … but I’m not giving up.”

Cavanaugh has said she plans to filibuster every bill, measure and gubernatorial appointment until conservative senators in the majority stop pushing for a handful of priority bills aimed at limiting the rights of trans students at school and further restricting women’s access to abortion.

She has drawn attention from national media outlets, including MSNBC. On Tuesday, the 12th day of her filibuster, she shared a story from a constituent about a child who told his mother he felt like God made a mistake making him a boy instead of a girl. 

“If people don’t want to take responsibility for their role in the body and their positions of leadership, if they want to put it squarely on my shoulders, that’s fine,” Cavanaugh said. “I’m not going to stop doing what I’m doing. We will just pass fewer bills.”

Cavanaugh said senators should expect to pass around 55 bills this session — and adjust their expectations accordingly. She said she is fine if senators pass nothing beyond the budget.

Her push has been joined by several Democratic state senators, including State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, who has argued that the speaker could solve the slowdown by exercising his right to decide which bills get scheduled. 

Arch said he would not limit what bills senators prioritize. He said he would provide a clearer schedule for evening debate on Thursday.

“Based on the comments made this morning by the speaker, I am going to do this,” Cavanaugh said. “There’s no interest in this body or in the leadership in coming to an agreement. … The only thing I can do is stop bad things from happening by slowing things down.”


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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.