Knickrehm Elementary School fifth-graders were able to learn about the Nebraska Legislature from a state senator as part of a talk Monday afternoon.
State Sen. Ray Aguilar told the approximately 25 Knickrehm students all about life in the Legislature as he answered their questions via Zoom. Members of the local media also were invited to take part in the call.
Aguilar said he chose to speak with the fifth-graders as his grandson, Charlie, is a Knickrehm fifth-grader.
“I enjoy the kids and sharing information with them,” he said. “They used to be able to come to the Capitol and make their visits, but with COVID they can’t do that. So I reached out to this group and made myself available to them.”
Knickrehm fifth-grade teacher Diane Meyer said Aguilar reached out to her about three weeks ago and decided to set up a talk via Zoom. She said since the students were unable to visit the Capitol last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the talk with Aguilar allowed them to learn about the Unicameral, ask questions about it and hear Aguilar talk about what his job as state senator entails.
Meyer said once she found out Aguilar would be speaking to the Knickrehm fifth-graders, the class researched the Legislature online. During the call, students were able to stand before a computer at the front of the classroom, maintain a safe distance from others and briefly pull down their mask to ask Aguilar a question.
In his responses to the students’ questions, Aguilar said he is returning to the Legislature after previously serving from 1998 to 2008. He said he usually arrives at the Capitol between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. daily and stays there until somewhere between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Aguilar said that with this being the first year of the legislative session he and his fellow senators will work 90 days this year and will work for 60 days next year. He told the students it is “going to be an exciting year” as there are more than 700 bills that have been introduced and the Legislature has to address issues such as the budget and redistricting.
One student asked Aguilar what he hopes to accomplish as a state senator.
“What I hope to accomplish is get a couple of bills I introduced passed, as well as make the others that I have co-signed,” he said. “Hopefully, we get a lot of them (passed) and make things better for Nebraska.”
The students also asked Aguilar how a bill becomes a law. He said that bills are introduced by senators in a hearing before being voted onto the floor.
“It then goes onto floor debate and goes through three rounds of debate on the floor,” Aguilar said. “If it passes every one, it goes to the governor’s office. If he signs it, it is law.”
In a follow-up question, one fifth-grader asked Aguilar whether a bill could become a law without Gov. Pete Ricketts’ approval. He said this can be done in two different ways.
“One is if he doesn’t sign it, and just lets it go, after 90 days, it becomes a law,” Aguilar said. “The second is if he would veto it and we override that veto. We do that and have to have 33 votes. Then, it becomes law.”
He added that the Nebraska citizens also can vote a bill into law by voting to approve a Constitutional amendment.
As he reflected on his first few weeks in office, Aguilar told the Knickrehm students that his favorite part about being a state senator is helping people.
“It is rewarding in that way,” he said. “You get the opportunity to help people who are sometimes in trouble and at the end of their rope; they have no place else to turn to and we are able to help them.”
Aguilar said he enjoyed the opportunity to talk with the Knickrehm students and answer their questions.
“They asked some great questions,” he said.
Meyer said she hopes the fifth-graders come away from Aguilar’s talk with a better understanding of how the Unicameral works.
Knickrehm Principal Rob Bishop said Aguilar being Charlie’s grandpa allowed students to make a personal connection to the state senator.
“I think it is just a great opportunity for our students to understand that the Nebraska Legislature includes our hometown, we have representation and they are people from Grand Island,” Bishop said. “I think for some of our students, when they hear about the Legislature, the House and the Senate, it is so far away. So having this personal connection of Sen. Aguilar being connected to Knickrehm with his grandson attending school here is a cool connection lesson for our students.”