Nebraska has had three Legislatures dating from 1855 to the present: a Territorial Legislature, a state Bicameral Legislature, and the Unicameral Legislature we have today.The Territorial Legislature 1855-1867
The Organic Act of May 30, 1854, provided for the Nebraska Territory's first legislative assembly that consisted of a Council elected for two-year terms and a House of Representatives elected for one-year terms. Members of the first session met on January 16, 1855 in Omaha. The Council had 13 members throughout the duration of the Territorial Legislature. The House representatives initially had 26 members, increasing to 35 in 1857, then 39 in 1859. This number however dropped to 38 in 1865 and 37 in 1866. All of these sessions were held in Omaha.
In the Nebraska Legislators, Past and Present database one way to locate legislators that served in Territorial Council and House is by county or counties they represented. Keep in mind that the name, location and number of counties have changed since the late 1800’s. See the Territorial Counties page for more information. A section of the Nebraska Blue Book, 1915 provides detailed information about Nebraska Legislative Apportionments, 1854-1911.
Additional information about the Territorial Council and House can be found in the Nebraska Blue Book, 1915. In this book is a list of each of the 12 Legislative Assemblies listed by the dates of the session and members of the both the Council and House along with the county or counties they represent.
Transition to Statehood 1866-1867
In 1866 and 1867 during the transition to statehood, both the Territorial and State Legislatures met. On June 2, 1866 the voters adopted a constitution providing for a State Legislature consisting of a partisan Senate and House of Representatives. It met July 4, 1866 and is recorded as the first State legislative session, although Congress had not yet passed the bill admitting Nebraska to the Union. Congress rejected the 1866 constitution until Nebraska agreed to an amendment allowing black people to vote. So a 12th session of the Territorial Legislature met Jan. 10, 1867. Immediately after it adjourned the governor called a special session to consider a black suffrage amendment. It met Feb. 20 and 21, 1867 and is recorded as the second State legislative session, although Nebraska was not admitted as a state until March 1. The May 16, 1867 special session was the first meeting after statehood and is recorded as the third State legislative session. It met to establish general legislation for the new state.The State Bicameral Legislature 1867-1936
The Bicameral Legislature was a partisan body with a Senate and House of Representatives. Initially there were 13 Senators and 39 Representatives, continuing the numbers from the Territorial Legislature. Biennial legislative sessions were conducted in odd-numbered years. In 1875 numbers increased to 30 Senators and 84 Representatives, and in 1881 increased to 33 Senators and 100 Representatives. Legislators were elected to represent numbered districts which followed county boundaries. The Nebraska Blue book lists Bicameral legislators by town of residence, not county. Therefore searching with county names in the full text search in the Legislators Past and Present database will not find names of legislators serving in the Bicameral or Unicameral legislatures. A section of the Nebraska Blue Book, 1915 provides detailed information about Nebraska Legislative Apportionments, 1854-1911 including a table from the 1911 reapportionment showing which counties were in which district. In this same Blue Book is a list of Occupations of Members of the Legislature, 1875-1913.The Unicameral Legislature 1937- present
Interest in creating a one-house Legislature in Nebraska began as early as 1913. Proponents believed that corruption and back-room dealing would be reduced and efficiency increased with a single Legislature. Debate would be more open, lobbying more public, and there would no longer be a Conference Committee meeting in secret to discuss differences in bills passed in both houses. Several attempts to pass enabling legislation or get the issue on the election ballot failed until U.S. Senator George W. Norris got involved. Norris was a revered statesman from McCook, widely respected by the people and by politicians of both parties. He spearheaded a petition drive to get a constitutional amendment for a Unicameral Legislature on the 1934 election ballot. He campaigned across the state and on November 6, 1934 Nebraska voters adopted the constitutional amendment. It provided for a nonpartisan, one-house, or unicameral, Legislature. It directed the 1935 Legislature to divide the state into at least 30, but not more than 50, legislative districts. 43 districts were created and the first Unicameral Legislature convened in 1937 with 43 Senators serving two-year terms. In 1964 Senators in odd-numbered districts were elected to four-year terms. Senators in even-numbered districts were elected to two-year terms, then 4-year terms in 1966. Since 1966 all Senators serve four-year terms. In 2008 voters approved a constitutional amendment limiting Senators to two consecutive 4-year terms.
Changes in the number of districts and district boundaries mean that district boundaries change. Some Senators have served in more than one district. To help with searching by district in the Nebraska Legislators Past and Present database click on the Nebraska Unicameral Legislative Districts page to find district maps and more information about how apportionment is determined.More Resources
- Nebraska Legislature website
- Currently serving Senators
- Notable Former Legislators
- Biographies of Nebraska Legislators. Scanned Blue Book biographies from 1901-2009. To find specific persons you will need to know the years in which they served.
- Where can I seek information about the Unicameral? Links to information about the Unicameral Legislature, including History, On Unicameralism, FAQs, Wikipedia entry.