Budget Wraps Up, Property Tax Plan Emerges, and Incident Draws National Attention

LB 441 Debate Incident Draws National Attention

Whether you’re a casual follower of Nebraska news or a dedicated Legislature watcher, chances are you’ve seen at least one headline in your social media feed recently about the controversy around Senator Steve Halloran’s remarks during debate over LB 441 last week. The event has been well covered by media from the local to national levels and its subject matter can be sensitive for some, so I won’t take the time to cover it here.

Post-incident, LB 441, the “book banning” bill at the center of the controversy, was narrowly defeated thanks to the courage of a few sometimes-moderate conservatives who broke ranks and voted no on the measure, which would have left teachers and school librarians vulnerable to criminal prosecution for teaching or sharing educational content that some parents may find objectionable. Those three were Sens. Hughes, Brandt, and Riepe. If you or your organization appreciate their votes, a reminder that thanking senators that defy political pressure for their courage can go a long way.

As to whether Halloran will face consequences, that remains to be seen. Exec Board Chair Sen. Aguilar has opened an investigation under the Legislature’s workplace harassment policy, but Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh and unlikely ally, Sen. Slama, have said that investigation won’t allow for Halloran to be disciplined before the session adjourns — and Halloran is termed out after this year. The two subsequently filed a Legislative resolution to censure Halloran, which will have a public hearing on Thursday.

Property Tax Plan Emerges

The Revenue Committee has finally put forth its property tax relief plan in LB 388, and it’s sure to stir up controversy in the body as some key conservatives have already spoken against it, calling it a tax shift. I’m told the committee did not allow the lone dissenter, Sen. Dungan, who was traveling for a legislative event, to submit his vote in order to give the appearance the plan was unanimously approved. The measure will likely be scheduled for first round debate this week.

Budget Bills Await Final Approval

LBs 1412 & 1413 were advanced and are poised to receive final approval in time for the Day 50 deadline on Tuesday. Concerns persist about a few key items, particularly the major proposed cut to behavioral health funding.

Good News Bills Advanced

  • LB 840, a bill by Sen. McKinney which also became the Urban Affairs Committee package, advanced to Select File. The base bill, dubbed the Poverty Elimination Plan Act, requires cities of the primary and metropolitan classes (the statutory way to target Lincoln and Omaha) to create and submit to the Urban Affairs committee a 5-year poverty elimination action plan describing what actions they will take to reduce poverty in targeted high-need areas within their communities. Cities’ plans will be reevaluated every two years and updated every five years. Along with the plans, the two cities are to submit a report to the committee every other year detailing progress on their efforts. The bill outlines a list of key components for the cities to include in their reports, some of which are needs assessment, education and job training, transportation and infrastructure, social services, community engagement, affordable housing, and health care access. The bill allows for the Urban Affairs Committee to request for either city to present its reports at a public hearing.

The bill as packaged also includes two bills designed to protect Omaha Housing Authority (OHA) residents following mounting complaints of indecent living conditions and unjust evictions at OHA properties:

LB 530 (McKinney): A handful of changes to the Omaha Housing Authority board, requires OHA to establish a complaint process and administrative grievance procedure.
LB 1046 (J.Cavanaugh): Requires court-appointed legal representation for tenants facing eviction by OHA, at OHA’s expense.

  • LB 20 (Wayne), which eliminates the current two-year waiting period for persons convicted of a felony to have their voting rights restored after completing their sentence, advanced to Select File. This was a big step forward and came after many attempts from various lawmakers over the years.
  • LB 905 (Riepe) was passed on Final Reading. It would provide short term medical respite and housing services for homeless adults at facilities to be designated in Lincoln in Omaha via a new Medicaid waiver program.
  • LB 1284 (Walz), which was amended to be a package of nine various proposals related to teacher recruitment and retention as well as a pilot program to provide free menstrual products in schools, advanced to Select File.

Speaker Shifts Cloture Rule

In the wake of the Halloran incident, Speaker Arch took the opportunity to announce a significant change in his approach to handling extended debate.

With the remaining session time rapidly dwindling and so many priority items left to tackle, Arch advised the body that he would be making use of a discretionary lever he left available to himself in a memo to senators at the beginning of session: it said that he would be generally following existing practice of 8, 4, and 2 hours of debate for cloture, but that he reserved the right to adapt those time frames if it became necessary.

Beginning with LB 441 and for any other priority measures that are particularly divisive, he will change the debate clock to half the typical time: 4, 2, and 1 hour. This will be reserved for “culture war” type bills — not straightforward good governance measures, necessary policy changes, those creating or updating programs, and the like. For bills in this “4-2-1” category, Arch said, most members tend to get their minds made up about how they’re going to vote within the first hours of what can be an 8 hour filibuster; and that while he wants to be sure to allow for full and fair debate, it often reaches a point where more damage is done than good after substantive points have all been made, debate drags on and things can get heated or personal. This only serves to harm the institution, he said, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to “call it” sooner on some of these bills.

I think if we see more hot button bills like LB 575, the Sports and Spaces Act (Kauth) come to the floor before session ends, they could fit into this category.

This week ends on Thursday, Day 52. That leaves one more four-day week and a three day week before the session’s basically over with.

Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall