Fly on the Wall 2022: Food and rental assistance bills advance

The temperature remains high in the Unicameral as pressure mounts to move through competing priorities and budget items before the session concludes in just a few short weeks. 

This week centered primarily on spending debates, with a few other highly consequential priority bills sprinkled in. All three bills comprising the state budget (LBs 1011, 1012, and 1013) are now on Final Reading and the ARPA package (LB 1014) is on Select File. All are expected to be passed by Thursday of this week. They’ll then go to the Governor, who can sign them or return them with line-item vetoes that remove specific component(s) of the proposals. Opponents of the three big-ticket items – The Perkins County Canal, a new lake between Lincoln and Omaha, and money for a new prison facility- have been thus far unable to get any of the money set aside for these projects slashed from the proposed budget. 

In the mix this week were:

  • LB 939, Sen. Linehan’s proposed top income tax rate cut, stalled during a filibuster that resulted in the introducer allowing the measure to be “passed over”, rendering it dead for the year. The Revenue committee then acted quickly to reattach the provisions of LB 939 onto a new vehicle, LB 919, which is expected to be debated this week.
  • LB 825, Sen. Lindstrom’s bill that included a full income tax exemption for Social Security plus a number of other tax shifts, was defeated by filibuster. It was bogged down by the inclusion of an amendment dealing with other substantial tax changes, including a less popular cut to the top corporate income tax rate. 
  • LB 1024, the North Omaha recovery bill, was advanced after being amended to include increased funding dedicated to specific economic recovery projects in Omaha’s highest poverty areas. 

Bill to Lift SNAP Ban for Former Drug Offenders Advances

LB 121, Senator Hunt’s priority bill that would lift Nebraska’s lifetime ban on SNAP eligibility for people with certain drug convictions, scraped by the first round with exactly the 25 votes needed to advance. Since it didn’t face a filibuster, only a simple majority was required. Senator Slama has promised to filibuster it on Select File, however, which places the measure in jeopardy if it can’t win the 33 votes necessary to overcome a certain four-hour filibuster the next time it’s on the floor. Opposition has been focused on beliefs about whether people who have committed felony crimes should be eligible for government assistance, regardless if they have since done their time and been rehabilitated. Nebraska doesn’t impose this kind of ban on food assistance for any other type of conviction, and SNAP access has been proven to reduce prison recidivism in other states. A gubernatorial veto is highly likely on this one as well, which would take 30 votes to override.

Abortion Ban Fight Begins

On Friday, Senator Albrecht’s motion to pull her bill that would ban abortion outright in Nebraska (LB 933) from the Judiciary committee to the floor of the legislature passed with 28 votes. It was intentionally scheduled on Friday to coincide with what some supporters recognize as the “Day of the Unborn”. This is the beginning of what’s sure to be many hours of debate on the issue.  Albrecht’s bill is considered a “trigger ban” because it would go into effect if and when the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade as expected. Opponents attempted unsuccessfully to kill the pull motion on Friday, setting the stage for a certain filibuster of the bill itself sometime before the end of the session – the Speaker noted he doesn’t expect it to be this week.

Arguments were raised both in opposition to the procedural issue of whether it’s an appropriate use of the rules to pull the bill from a committee and undermine the committee process; and on the basis of issues with the bill itself, like its lack of exceptions for maternal health risks and its punishment of doctors who provide abortion care. Opponents further criticized the decision to file and schedule the motion for debate, which will suck up at least 15+ hours of precious remaining floor time. Whether it has 33 votes to overcome a filibuster on General File is uncertain. However, if it’s killed now, it won’t be gone for long: it’s rumored that the Governor would call the Legislature back into special session this summer to address the issue again if LB 933 fails and Roe is overturned. This could put additional pressure on some members on the fence or leaning yes on the ban to just let it pass now rather than dragging the issue out over the summer. 

Rental Assistance Advances, But Without Emergency Clause

LB 1073, Senator Matt Hansen’s priority bill that would force the state to apply for federal Emergency Rental Assistance funds, passed Final Reading with 26 votes this week in a substantial victory for advocates who have supported this cause. Since it did not receive the 33 votes necessary to pass with the “emergency clause” – a provision that would’ve required the measure to take effect immediately rather than in the standard three months – its future is somewhat less secure. The U.S. Treasury deadline for states to apply for the funds is March 31st. The Governor has until Tuesday to veto the bill, as Legislative rules provide five calendar days for a gubernatorial veto to occur after a bill’s passage. Several members were excused or not voting on Wednesday that could vote yes on a likely veto override, potentially bringing it to the 30 needed.

Sen. Hansen remains hopeful that there’s an avenue for the bill to be implemented, possibly by working with the Treasury to extend the deadline. He has said Nebraska can almost certainly secure at least about $51 million of the available funds if the bill is signed into law, because there’s a provision in federal law requiring the Treasury to hang onto 40% of the funds allotted for each state beyond the March 30th application deadline. 

ARPA Bill Advances

LB 1014 passed the first round with a committee amendment that included, among many components: $20 million for food banks and nonprofits that address food insecurity; $55 million for Medicaid nursing homes; $48 million for behavioral and mental health care; and $55 million for developmental disability service providers. Notably, the Appropriations Committee made some changes to what the Governor had originally proposed, like removing a potential pilot program that would have provided vouchers for private school programs. It advanced with 41 votes. 

The Week Ahead

The Speaker has instructed members to clear their schedules in anticipation of staying late into the evening for the next two weeks of work days. The Speaker will continue to prioritize floor time to wrap up the budget and ARPA bills, and remaining priority bills will be taken up as time allows in between. Watch for a possible veto on emergency rental assistance to happen this week. As of Monday, 12 legislative days remain. 

Until Next Week,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall