Inside the Rotunda

Legislative Roundup, Week 7

Cease Fire

The Nebraska Legislature agreed to a temporary truce last week in the continuing battle over adoption of permanent rules. Under the agreement, the Legislature will work under temporary rules until March 20.. At that time, the battle will resume. The hope is that Senators will spend time between now and then working on some of the noncontroversial, or less controversial, issues that have made it to General File (the first round of floor debate). Freshmen Senators, in particular, will be able to see that most of the bills passed through the Legislature carry broad, bipartisan support. Today’s agenda includes many such bills.

The ongoing battle, coupled with an unusual period without recess days, has had an exhausting impact at the Capitol.

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Legislative Roundup, Week 6

Filibuster Rights Jeopardized

Last week, the Nebraska Legislature inched closer to the adoption of amended rules that would squeeze filibuster rights. The Legislature voted 25-19 in favor of adopting a rule change proposed by Senator Tyson Larson that would allow 30 Senators to invoke cloture (end a filibuster), unless 17 votes were cast in opposition to ending debate. The current rule requires 33 votes to end a filibuster. So 17 Senators can currently sustain a filibuster by simply not voting for cloture. Because Senators are sometimes absent, this shift in burden could have enormous consequences for successfully stopping bad legislation from passing.

Senators are engaged in persistent efforts on the floor to prevent the adoption of permanent rules with the Larson amendment.

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Legislative Round Up, Week 5

The Power of the Purse

Last week served as a preview of the future budget battle for the biennium budget as the state grapples with a $900 million revenue shortfall.

State Senators expressed their grievances last week over the Governor’s deficit budget cuts (cuts he wants to make to the current year budget that was already approved), before ultimately advancing them to Select File (the second round of debate before Final Reading). Senator Bob Krist and others criticized the Governor for withholding appropriations to state agencies. Others also criticized the Governor for not calling the Legislature into a special session to address the deficit cuts.

The Nebraska Constitution gives the Legislature the “power of the purse.” The Legislature was able to make significant changes to the Governor’s proposals, including protection of funds to support people with developmental disabilities and funds to reduce prison overcrowding.

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Legislative Roundup, Week 4

Rules Fight Continues

State Senators spent nearly all of last week’s floor debate fighting over the adoption of permanent rules, and have come to no agreement on how to move forward. As Don Walton notes in his latest Lincoln Journal Star column, the battle is:

“more than just inside baseball” because “changing the number of votes required to sustain a minority filibuster could be a major factor, perhaps even the key factor, in determining or shaping legislative decisions on huge issues like tax cuts, budget priorities, state funding for the University of Nebraska, the very shape of Nebraska’s future.”

In past sessions, sustaining a filibuster has come down to a single vote or two. Expect this battle to continue. Legislative staff are trying to pull together “interesting material” for floor debate.

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Legislative Roundup, Week 3

Hearings Watch, Budgets and Taxes, and Rules

While the period for bill introductions has ended and hearings are in full swing, partisan rumblings still hang in the balance over legislative rules. Although the Rules Committee previously rejected a change that would have required at least 17 senators to vote no to sustain a filibuster, there is still a possibility that the Legislature could make a change on the floor as early as today. As noted by Don Walton in his Journal Star column over the weekend, if the majority goes that direction, it “would be viewed by the legislative minority as piling on after an opening day in which they were steamrolled on a series of leadership votes.”

Medicaid Expansion

Senator Adam Morfeld has taken up the mantle on Medicaid Expansion, introducing LB441 last week to expand coverage to 90,000 more Nebraskans.

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Legislative Round Up, Week 2

Nonpartisan Legislature

After a tense first week in the Legislature over chairmanships and committee assignments, the second week saw battles over rules and referencing.

The Rules Committee defeated controversial measures that would have increased the bar for filibusters by requiring 17 votes on the floor to sustain a filibuster, rather than 33 to invoke cloture. The Rules Committee also defeated a measure to end the secret ballot for chairmanship votes. Don Walton highlights the events in the Journal Star.

There has also been tension on the floor as Senators debate motions to move (re-reference) bills relating to guns and abortion to different committees. A motion by Senator Ernie Chambers would move LB 68, (a measure that would strip local authority to regulate guns) from the Government Committee to the Judiciary Committee. Similar bills have been referenced to the Judiciary Committee in the past. Also on the agenda is a motion to reassign a bill dealing with abortion (LB 59) from the Judiciary Committee to the Health and Human Services Committee. These battles may seem mundane, but they carry significance because the Government and Military Affairs and Health and Human Services Committees are widely considered more conservative than the Judiciary Committee. Joanne Young details the battles in this Journal Star story.

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The 2017 Legislative Race Begins!

Welcome back to the blog. The Race Begins!

Race for Chairs

Tension, drama and surprises were in full effect last week as the 105th Legislature kicked off its first session. Family smiles and picture-posing were abound as the Legislature convened with the ceremonial swearing in of new and re-elected members. Those ceremonial activities quickly gave way to the serious business at hand, including the election of a Speaker and Committee Chairs. Senator Jim Scheer, District 19, was elected Speaker of the Legislature.

Controversy followed when Committee Chairmanships went in unison to conservative Republicans, as more moderate candidates in both parties were defeated. There were further tensions as the Committee on Committees made their report on Committees assignments for members. The full Legislature accepted the Committee assignments, but not before some conservative members expressed their displeasure with the makeup of committees. Senator Bob Krist, District 10, who was defeated earlier in the week by Senator Dan Watermeier, District 1, said Nebraska’s nonpartisan Legislature was “dead.”

These stories from the Lincoln Journal Star and the Omaha World Herald highlight some of the first-week tensions:

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