By Roy Frederick
Public Policy Specialist
Department of Agricultural Economics
University of Nebraska
That worldly philosopher, Yogi Berra, is fond of saying; "It ain't over 'til it's over."
However, members of the Nebraska Legislature might make an even simpler declaration: it is never over.
Sine die adjournment of the legislature comes and goes each year. But the state's public policy issues are never resolved once and for all. Some policy questions are deliberately carried over to the next session, victims of too little time or support in the current session. Other issues are only beginning to evolve.
Either way, interim studies often are an important part of the legislative process. The best ones are like a bridge. They carry the legislature from wherever an issue stood in the past session to a different perspective in the next session. Useful information is added along the way.
By my count, the legislature authorized about 160 interim studies in the 2000 session. Each study has been assigned to one or more of the body's standing committees. Committee chairs and their staffs now will have primary responsibility for moving the studies along. Some studies will receive much more attention than others. Perceived importance of the issue and the ability of the legislature to respond probably are the biggest factors in bringing time and energy to a study.
The study to come from Legislative Resolution LR 443 seems sure to be one of the top attention-getters. Focusing on teachers' salaries, it was a major unresolved issue in the 2000 session. The education, revenue and appropriations committees are all charged with gathering input. An early hunch is that it will be one of the top issues in 2001.
In contrast, LR 453 offers an example of a study that is likely to be more limited in scope. The Agriculture Committee is to examine issues relating to food products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). While the issue is undeniably important, state government's ultimate role might be to spur appropriate federal action.
A few study resolutions cover territory trod in previous years. LR 345, for example, proposes an examination of Nebraska's overall tax structure. On one hand, this makes sense, because many Nebraskans continue to be unhappy about our tax system. However, past studies did not produce utopia. Neither will this one. The reason is obvious: we don't all agree on what is best.
As to the process, some interim studies rely heavily on formal hearings. Others focus on surveys of other state's responses to similar policy problems. Still others depend on good, old-fashioned number-crunching by legislative and agency staff. Whatever the process, the bottom line is that interim studies help accomplish the state's business.