- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A push to require public votes for Nebraska committee leadership positions faced sharp criticism Wednesday from some lawmakers who see it as an affront to the state’s nonpartisan Legislature.

Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion once again argued in favor of the change before the Legislature’s Rules Committee, saying lawmakers should have to disclose their votes for speaker and committee leaders so voters can judge them.

“This is basic transparency and accountability in government,” the conservative Republican senator said.

Some committee members said the rule change is an attempt to put partisan pressure on senators. Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, a Republican who has clashed with his party, promised to give Kintner “one hell of a fight” if his proposal makes it to the full Legislature.

“You call it transparency. I call it a means of control,” Krist said.

The hearing followed unusually contentious votes for committee leaders last week, during which Nebraska lawmakers approved new assignments that could make it easier for conservatives to advance major tax-cutting legislation but also create divisions over education policy.

Conservative Republicans swept nearly all of the Legislature’s committee chairmanships. Some of those seats had been sought by Democrats and moderate Republicans with more seniority.

Nebraska’s one-house Legislature has no formal party structure or leadership, and that lack of party control has previously allowed Democrats to claim many of Nebraska’s legislative chairmanships, including the top seat on the committee that oversees the state budget. Most of the Republicans in leadership positions have been moderates.

Despite GOP dominance, committees in recent years have been led by a mix of Republicans and Democrats. Nebraska’s Legislature consists of 32 registered Republicans, 15 Democrats, one Libertarian and a liberal independent.

Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus, a Republican who’s sometimes at odds with his party, said senators should be held accountable to voters and not what he described as a minority of party activists who are frustrated with the Legislature.

Kintner said many of his constituents support the idea of open leadership votes. Schumacher said he addressed the same issue when he was up for re-election, and many of his constituents supported the status quo.

“This imposes your view of what your constituents want on me and what my constituents want,” Schumacher said.

Lawmakers are expected to debate the committee’s recommendations Friday.

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