Fly on the Wall 2022: ARPA update, public hearings begin

Hearings Begin

Committees began holding afternoon hearings on new proposals.  Some notable hearings that happened last week include:

  • LB 838 (Kolterman) would provide State support to recruit and stabilize our early childhood workforce
  • LB 724 (M. Hansen) would provide cities with more flexibility to create affordable housing plans
  • LB 773 (Brewer) – removes permit requirement to carry a concealed handgun
  • LB 833 (Pahls) – removes statute of limitations for child sexual assault cases

This week, hearings will be held on topics including major budget bills, education funding, tax shifts, criminal justice reform, elections, and redistricting. 

ARPA Update

Appropriations Chair Senator Stinner shared the following info about the plan for hearing on the Governor’s ARPA proposal. The budget director for the governor will present his recommendations, then the committee will open the public comment section on each item in the order they are listed in the Governor’s budget book (see p.41). At the end of each category, (e.g., Public Health Emergency Response, Negative Economic Impacts, Water, Sewer and Broadband, etc.) the committee will entertain any additional comments on new proposals related to that category. Testimony will be limited to 3 minutes each. They ask that if you support an item but would like to see it modified, please bring your proposed change in writing to share with the committee. This hearing is set for Tuesday, January 25 at 1:30pm.

Floor Debate

LB 496, Sen. Hilkemann’s controversial measure to require DNA to be collected from people accused of violent crimes, scraped by to advance to Final Reading. I’ve heard that it might still face a fight on the third round, and the introducer may be looking to make a compromise to keep it afloat that may have something to do with addressing the state’s backlog of untested rape kits. 

LR 14, Sen. Halloran’s Convention of States proposal, also squeaked by on a second round vote to advance to Final Reading, thanks to a compromise Sen. Halloran made with Sen. DeBoer that will set an expiration date on the state’s call for a convention after 5 years. The thinking of some previously opposed senators who agreed to advance it with the compromise is that it’s preferable to pass it with a limit now, rather than in a future legislature, which may have a more hard-line conservative makeup that would allow it to pass a much broader measure. 

Sen. Wayne pledged to “slow down” spending bills on the agenda, saying the body should wait and monitor what’s going to become of the budget process before we commit to future state spending. This could be related to his push for more funds to be devoted to projects in high-poverty areas of Omaha. 

Bill Introduction Ends

Bill introduction has concluded for the session.  An overview of all introduced bills of interest would be lengthy, so here’s some standouts:

  • LB 1113 (McKinney) – directs COVID relief funds toward a pilot program to provide guaranteed income for young people exiting the Bridge 2 Independence program
  • LR282CA (Slama) – would make the legislature partisan
  • LB 1275 (Groene) – legalizes medical cannabis in a limited fashion
  • LB 1169 (Morfeld) – would provide birth control for free
  • LR278CA (Linehan) – constitutional amendment to eliminate the State Board of Education and allow the Governor to appoint the Commissioner of Education. (This was a bit of a surprise, as she’s apparently opted for this instead of her private school scholarship tax credit). 
  • LB 952 (J. Cavanaugh) – helps incarcerated Nebraskans approaching release enroll in Medicaid
  • LB 929 (Wishart) – provides mothers on Medicaid a year of postpartum coverage
  • LB 1028 (Hunt) – strengthens wage protections for tipped workers
  • LB 986 & 987 (Briese) – limits on school spending
  • LB 963 (Murman) – allows medical providers to deny care to patients on the basis of personal religious beliefs
  • LBs 938 & 939 (Linehan) – cut income tax rates for top earning individuals and corporations

The Report of the Nebraska Criminal Justice Reinvestment Working Group, containing findings and recommendations from the study of Nebraska’s overcrowding problem, has now been released. You can view the report here.  It will inform discussions in Judiciary about criminal justice reform. 

The Week Ahead

Debate continues on priority bills: LB 825 – Sen. Lindstrom’s bill to accelerate the elimination of Social Security income taxes; LB 723 – Sen. Briese’s bill to set a “floor” for the property tax credit provided by LB 1107; and LB 450 – Sen. McKinney’s bill to create and provide State support for “Innovation Hubs” in high poverty areas. Sen. Pansing Brooks’ LB 568, a committee priority bill regarding juvenile truancy, should be heard on Select File. 

A Note about COVID-19 Outbreaks

A final note – many staff have raised eyebrows about the presence of several senators in the building who have tested positive for COVID in the past week. Per Speaker policy, these Senators are allowed to be present and vote from the North Balcony as a distancing measure.  However, some purportedly positive individuals have been seen frequently unmasked in close proximity to other Senators and staff. We’re thankful the Executive Board is offering weekly COVID testing for us in the building, but with outbreaks spreading rampantly, tensions are a little high for those with concerns about exposure. Advocates looking to testify at hearings who have heightened vulnerability may want to consider the lack of COVID precautions in place at the Capitol and in hearing rooms. We want you there as much as possible, of course, but this is the reality. Comments or concerns about this should be directed to chairs of respective committees and the Speaker. 

Until next week,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall