Gov. Jim Pillen, at left, listens to newly appointed State Sen. Fred Meyer of St. Paul, at center, speak in the Warner Chamber of the Nebraska State Capitol on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023, in Lincoln. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Gov. Jim Pillen has appointed Fred Meyer of St. Paul, a former member of the State Board of Education, to a central Nebraska vacancy in the Legislature.
Meyer succeeds State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, who was in his seventh year representing Legislative District 41. Briese resigned Oct. 31 to step into the role of state treasurer the next day. Meyer and Pillen have agreed the St. Paul resident will fill the final 13 months of Briese’s term, through 2024, but not run for election.
Former Gov. Mike Johanns appointed Meyer to the Board of Education in 1999. He was elected in 2002 and served through 2010, spending multiple years as vice president and president of the board.
“I’m just really excited, and I have a lot to learn,” Meyer said before taking his oath of office. “I have a good team to work with, with the governor’s staff, and I’m ready to get started.”
Sixteen people applied for the vacancy, Pillen said, some that he personally encouraged to apply. Pillen added that when he and Meyer sat down and talked about how they saw the world, they had a similar agreement on many issues.
Meyer brings educational background
Secretary of State Bob Evnen, who intersected State Board of Education service with Meyer, said Meyer’s work as president demonstrated great leadership as they didn’t all have the same opinions.
“He was able to lead us forward as a group in a very positive way, and he always was encouraging and supporting me on the state board,” Evnen said. “I am very grateful to you for that.”
In an interview with the Nebraska Examiner, Meyer said he admired lawmakers’ ability to maneuver around roadblocks in the 2023 session, notably months long filibusters.
Meyer said the leadership from Briese as chair of the Executive Board, State Sen. John Arch of La Vista as speaker of the Legislature and others stood out.
“I’m going to concentrate on building relationships and working with senators that are here,” Meyer told the Examiner.
Asked by a reporter about the pending Sports and Spaces Act, Legislative Bill 575, to restrict K-12 bathrooms, locker rooms and sporting rooms to students’ sex at birth, Meyer said the biggest issue right now is a lack of certified teachers.
Meyer said he has also briefly addressed with Pillen the idea of paying student teachers.
“Anything that we can do to encourage more young people to get into education and the state I think are things we need to work on,” Meyer said.
Appointment differs from others
Pillen said he believes the voters of District 41 should decide their next state lawmaker. This includes all of Boone, Greeley, Howard, Sherman, Valley and Wheeler counties and portions of Buffalo and Hall counties.
However, this differs from past Pillen appointments, notably U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts, R-Neb., and Lincoln State Sen. Carolyn Bosn of Lincoln, who succeeded State Sen. Suzanne Geist. Both Ricketts and Bosn are running for their respective seats in 2024.
In 2022, prior to Pillen succeeding Ricketts as governor, the two appointed State Sen. Beau Ballard of Lincoln to succeed Mike Hilgers, who was elected to state attorney general. Ballard is also running in 2024.
At least two constituents have filed as District 41 candidates with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission: Ethan Clark of Ord and Nadine Bane of Scotia.
Meyer told reporters that he’s 72 years old and he and his wife love their lifestyle. However, out of respect to his wife, Briese and Pillen and to the work started in 2023, Meyer will serve to reinforce ongoing efforts.
“I don’t have any illusions about grandiose things that I can accomplish in a 60-day session,” Meyer said.
Executive Board, legislation
Briese’s resignation triggered a slew of procedural changes, including his pending legislation that will carry over to 2024 and his chair on the Executive Board.
Some of Briese’s outstanding proposals that were advanced to the full Legislature are:
- Setting a youth minimum wage for employees 14 to 17 years old and a training wage for employees 18 to 20 years old (LB 15).
- Providing universal recognition of workforce licenses from out-of-state and adopting a “fair chance” measure to limit how broadly individuals who were formerly incarcerated can be excluded from state licensure in occupations, according to the Platte Institute (LB 16).
- Requiring the Nebraska Department of Education to issue guidance for schools wishing to implement a moment of silence during the school day (LB 141).
- Implementing year-round daylight saving time, which would take effect only after the federal government allows states to do so and three neighboring states adopt similar year-round legislation (LB 142).
Briese had also proposed a constitutional amendment that would lead to the recall of constitutional officers and state senators if voters also approved the measure in 2024 (Legislative Resolution 14CA).
Speaker Arch told the Examiner before Meyer’s ceremony that the Executive Board will decide whether all or some of Briese’s legislation can be picked up next year and determine who could do so. This could include Meyer.
Arch said the Executive Board will also revise committee assignments later this year and assign Meyer accordingly. Briese served on the Revenue and Education Committees.
State Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island, vice chair of the Executive Board, is serving as acting chair. Arch said Aguilar has expressed interest in the chair position.
The Executive Board chair and vice chair positions are elected by the Legislature’s full membership, which will occur in January. If Aguilar is elevated to chair, there would be a second election for vice chair.
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