According to individual states’ constitutions, the governments of all the 50 states that make up the United States of America are organized. Every state’s constitution, in turn, needs to be based on the United States’ governing democratic ideology, i.e. Republican ideals. Clause 1 of Article IV, section 4, states that it is the duty of the central government to ensure that all state governments share the same Republican ethic. As a result, all state governments have followed the same model as the federal government, which is comprised of three branches. Although not constitutionally mandated, all state governments have a legislature, judiciary, and an executive arm where the governor acts as the head of both the government and the state. At the same time, each state remains a sovereign entity and therefore reserves the right to structure their government in any way the people, through the constitution, deem appropriate.
As a result, state governments may have many similar structures, but they also exhibit some differences in terms of form and substance. No two states can be said to have identical features of the government. The current paper is a comparison of the state of Florida government with that of the state of Nebraska. The paper first compares the features of the two state governments, focusing on the composition of the legislature, committee structures, elections, and lawmaker representations. The paper then compares how the two governments are run discussing the issues of ethics, fundraising, scandals and partisanships in the process.
The state of Florida lies in the southeastern region of the country. It is ranked number 22 in terms of size and 3rd most populous among all states in America. Florida joined the Union on March 3, 1845, as the 27th member of the United States. Elected in 2011, Rick Scott is the current governor of Florida. The seat of Florida’s government is in Tallahassee. The Constitution of Florida, which is reviewed every 20 years, defines all basic structures, functions, duties and operations by the government of the state of Florida. Nebraska, on the other hand, lies in the Great Plains that are found in the Midwestern USA. It has a small land area of just over 200, 000 km2 and a population of approximately 1.9 million people. Nebraska was admitted into the union in 1867 as the 37th state of the United States of America. The current governor of the state of Nebraska is Pete Ricketts, and the seat of government is Lincoln. Its government operates under the framework of the Nebraska Constitution that was formulated in 1875. In 1934, Nebraska voted for a constitutional amendment that abolished the House of Representatives and transferred all its duties to the Senate making it the only state with a unicameral legislative system.
Just like the Federal system, the citizens vote for their representatives in Florida. Also, the Florida state government also has three branches; the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. The governor is the “president” of the state and also the head of government. The term limit for a governor in Florida is two consecutive four-year terms. The governor is deputized by a lieutenant governor who in a way is the “vice president.” According to the Florida constitution, the lieutenant governor is the first in line to succeed the governor. Florida is among the 49 states in America that have a bicameral legislature comprised of an upper house and a lower house. According to the Florida constitution, “the legislative power of the state shall be vested in a legislature of the state of Florida” made up of the Senate as the upper house and the House of Representatives as the lower house. The governor of Nebraska is also the head of the state and the chief administrative officer in the government with the responsibilities of planning and budgeting for the state. Contrary to all other states in America, Nebraska is the only state in the US that has a unicameral legislature. The state abolished the two chambers system in a 1934 constitutional amendment that took effect after the 1936 elections. There was widespread dissatisfaction the bicameral system because bills would be lost owing to differences between the two houses. Opponents of the bicameral system also felt that they had two bodies of legislators doing the same thing hence it was a waste of resources. As such, the state of Nebraska only has senators who are responsible for enacting laws for the whole state.
In Florida, the legislative arm is comprised of a total of 160 legislators; 40 senators and 120 in the House of Representatives. Legislators in Florida are restricted to terms of eight consecutive years but can run for unlimited total terms such that a legislator can still vie for an elective seat if they sit out for two. The state legislature of Florida is a part-time body with annual sessions that do not exceed 60 calendar days. However, the governor can call for special sessions if need be. When not in these regular sessions, legislators take part in hearings, attend town hall meetings as well as legislative discussions for the rest of the year. The state legislature of Florida is one of the current 25 state government trifectas after the 2016 elections. A state government trifecta refers to a state government where one party heads all three arms of the government i.e. it holds the governorship, a majority in the state Senate, and a majority in the state house (Drenner 13).
Compared to Florida state legislature, Nebraska has the smallest legislature with only 49 senators who are eligible to consecutive four-year terms. Nebraska is the only non-partisan state legislature in America. This is because, during elections, there are no party affiliations next to the names of candidates on the ballot. Also, a member of the Senate from any party can be elected as the speaker of the house or as the chair of any house committee. However, it can be argued that all legislators are affiliated with the state affiliate of either the democrats or republicans as these parties often explicitly endorse certain candidates for political seats. For instance, in most cases in elections for Congress, the incumbent will run on either a Democratic or Republican line on the ballot. Other parties are also represented in the current Senate e.g. Laura Ebke who was elected in 2015 to represent District 32 is affiliated with the libertarian party (Schulte). For a long time, there was no limit to the terms a legislator in Nebraska could serve. Term limits were only introduced in 2000 to make it one of the 15 states that have term limits. Members of “the unicameral” as the Nebraska Senate is commonly referred, are eligible for election for only two consecutive terms.
Lack of term limits has been linked to non-performance and corruption in the states that have not imposed term limits on their legislators. According to Alt, Bueno de Mesquita and Rose (178) it creates career politicians who are more interested in raising funds for their campaigns as they seek to retain their seats. Lack of term limits is a serious threat to the representation of citizens as legislators have no accountability. Opponents of term limits, however, argue that it limits long-term thinking among the legislators. The citizens are also on the losing end because some good programs initiated by one term legislators or legislators who have reached the end of their terms may be neglected by new legislators who take over. As Hegazy (1) argued, politicians are more concerned about their legacies and are therefore more likely to focus on their programs and reduce funding for programs initiated by previous holders of the office. Term limits have, however, been linked to more efficient legislatures across the country. With term limits, toeing the party line is less important because members of the legislature would not be seeking re-election. There would be less partisan politics and more cooperation in passing legislation that makes a positive impact on the lives of Americans.
The state legislature of Florida is partisan whereby legislators are allied mostly to the democratic and republic parties or other smaller parties. A bill has to go through both chambers before it becomes law and it can then be forwarded to the governor for consideration. If the governor chooses to veto the bill, his decision can only be overturned by a 2/3 majority. In Nebraska, only 25 members of the Senate need to vote in favor of a bill for it to become law while 30 votes against can filibuster or veto a bill (Miewald 74). To override a governor’s veto in Nebraska, 33 members of the legislation need to vote in favor. In addition to being unicameral, the Nebraska legislature is the only non-partisan legislative body in the United States of America (Miewald and Longo). The Nebraska state Legislature is unique in that there are no formal party alignments but coalitions are formed based on a legislator’s philosophy of the government, the constituency they represent and the geographical area they come from. Partisan divisions in the state legislature of Florida have affected house business before as can be seen in a recent standoff between Democrats and Republicans in budget negotiations. Democrats were not willing to endorse proposed tax cuts, more funding for charter schools, the elimination of unfilled state jobs, and performance pay study for judges (Bousquet). Such standoffs can delay the budgeting process, paralyzing the state government and adversely affecting service delivery to the citizens.
State legislatures use different committees to handle the business of the house. In the Nebraska Senate, there are currently fourteen standing committees, four select committees, and five special committees. Standing committees like the appropriations committee have jurisdiction to a particular subject matter, and all bills, as well as constitutional resolutions concerning that subject matter, are sent to that committee. On the other hand a select committee e.g. the committee on committees is tasked with helping facilitate some legislative processes but have little direct involvement in specific public policy issues. On their part, special committees like the executive board have duties that are more or less administrative in nature and are created through statutes that assign them specific duties. Before 1973, chairs to all committees were selected by a committee on committees, subject to approval by the legislature (Berens 99). This selection process, however, proved ineffective as it led to a situation where most members of the committee of committees would end up as chairpersons in most of the committees. This meant that by becoming a member of the committee on committees, one had a higher chance of chairing a House committee. The rules of the legislature had to be amended and they now members have to hold an election for all leadership positions. This allows for a fair election process where all members have a say in who becomes a committee chair.
The rules of the Senate of the state of Florida also allow the establishment of standing committees, subcommittees, as well as special and select committees. The selection of committee members and chairs is different in the Florida legislature as compared to the state legislature of Nebraska. The President of the Senate appoints the individuals to chair as well as the members of all committees of the Senate while the speaker of the house selects the heads and members of the House committees. Presiding officers in both houses have the authority to appoint the members of joint committees who have to be drawn from each chamber. The role of select committees is to come up with recommendations to address any unique or special issues, and they are appointed by the respective presiding officers in the two chambers. Currently, there are eighteen standing committees, eight subcommittees, and four joint committees in the Florida Senate. The other legislative entity in the Senate of the state of Florida is the joint legislative budget commission. On its part, the Florida house of representatives has nine standing committees, seven subcommittees, and one special committee.
One of the responsibilities of lawmakers in both state legislatures is budget appropriation. The state of Florida operates on an annual budget cycle which has a sequence of key events. In July, before the new fiscal year begins, the governor of Florida is required to send budget instructions to all state agencies. The agencies then send budget requests to the governor in October, and budget hearings with state agencies take place in September. Public hearings are held in September and January. The governor has to submit his proposed budget to the state legislature in February. A simple majority is required for the state legislature to adopt the budget between April and May so that it can take effect at the beginning of the fiscal year in July (“The Florida Senate”). The constitution o Florida requires the governor to submit a balanced budget to the state legislature. In turn, the state legislature is constitutionally and statutory required to only pass the budget if it is balanced and then in can be signed into law by the governor. The governor of Florida is among governors in 43 other states in America who have line item veto authority whereby they are allowed to veto individual components of a bill brought before them by the legislature (“The Florida Senate”).
The state of Nebraska has a budget process that is similar to Florida’s. Budget instructions are sent to state agencies in July and they, in turn, have to submit requests to the governor in September. Agency and public hearings are held between January and February. The governor is constitutionally and statutorily required to submit their proposed budget on or before the 15th of January. The state legislature then can adopt the budget if they deem it balanced. However, in Nebraska, only one standing committee, the Appropriations Committee of the state of Nebraska, is mandated to handle budget and finance matters (Olson, Naugle and Montag 317). In the state of Florida, there are six committees that deal with budget and finance matters. They include; the appropriations committees from the two chambers, the finance and tax committees from both chambers, the fiscal policy committee from the Senate, and joint legislative budget committee of the Florida state legislature. Also, in Nebraska, the accounting services, management and performing audits of state finances is the duty of the Nebraska auditor of public accounts while the Florida chief financial officer performs this function in the state of Florida (Olson, Naugle and Montag 328). The position of Florida chief financial officer is a partisan office that is filled through elections held every four years during midterm elections years (“The Florida Senate”).
According to an annual report by a Washington-based no profit organization known as the US Public Interest Research Group, Florida is one of the leading states in terms of transparency in government spending. The report entitled “Following the Money” was based on the transparency and accountability demonstrated in state websites. According to this report, the state of Florida was given a numerical score of 95 which is equivalent to a grade A in their rankings (Uspirg.org). This is an indication that Florida is among the leading states in responsibly spending public money. In another survey, the Sunlight Foundation, in 2015, gave Florida a grade C in their report entitled “Open Legislative Data Report Card” (Turk). This survey evaluated the adequacy, completeness, accessibility of legislative data to the public. The “Following the Money” report by the US public interest research group gave Nebraska a numerical score of 87 which is equivalent to a B+ grade in their ranking (Uspirg.org). This was an indication that the Nebraska Senate was “advancing” in terms of transparency in state spending. The two states are part of the 33 states in the country that do not permit their legislators to have any other government job during their tenure. Legislators are also required to disclose their property holdings, business associations, and outside income.
The last point of comparison between these two state legislatures is in terms of success and achievements. The Nebraska Senate in the session ended 2014 was able to avoid major increases in future spending. In the financial year 2016/17, the Senate passed a bill to reduce its expenditure on a Medicare program that many feel is already unsustainable and effectively reigning in on state spending(Platte Institute). The Senate also moved to reduce over congestion in corrections facilities that cost the taxpayer millions of dollars through the broad corrections reforms bill by Senator Brad Ashford (McCollister and Jeannette). This bill would ensure reducing the prison populations while still providing monitoring when an inmate is released. On its part, state legislature of Florida also had some notable achievements. It passed a budget worth $82.8 billion dollars for the 2016/17 financial year as well as tax relief for families and businesses in the state. This budget makes huge investments in key areas such as health care, the education system, corrections facilities and the environment. Finally, compared to the previous year when they only passed 13.2% of the bills filed, the legislature was able to pass 15.4% of the bills brought before it (LeadingAge Florida).
The states of Florida and Nebraska have some similarities and differences in their legislative frameworks. A major difference can be seen in the system of their legislature. Nebraska has a unique unicameral legislature while Florida, like all other States, has a bicameral system. The structure and composition of the House committees is almost the same although they differ in how committee chairpersons are chosen. Another major difference between the two state legislatures is that Florida’s legislature is partisan while the Nebraska Unicameral is non-partisan. The two legislatures have been shown to adhere to high standards of integrity and ethic as can be seen in the transparency of their websites. Legislators in the two states are subject to state ethics regulations on dual employment and regulations on income disclosure. They have also had some notable successes, especially in legislation touching on health corrections and the education sector.
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Bousquet, Steve. “Partisan Divisions In Florida House Over GOP’s Spending Plans”. Miami Herald 2017. Web. 2 June 2017.
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