Fly on the Wall 2022: Hearings wrap up, full-day debate begins

This week was absent the fireworks we’ve been seeing on the floor since the beginning of this session, with Speaker Hilgers holding true to his promise to get through as many non-controversial, unlikely-to-be-filibustered priority bills as quickly as possible. 

Candidate Filings are In

Tuesday marked the deadline for new candidates to file for election to statewide offices. This tells us which incumbents up for re-election will face challenges from opponents, and which new candidates are competing for open legislative seats where an incumbent is termed out. Several term-limited legislators are running for other local, state or federal offices. This is significant for CSN readers because who’s in and who’s out will have a big impact on which policies the next legislature will be able to pass into law.

Another reason election cycles are relevant is that term-limited senators (read: those that don’t have to worry about re-election) might vote differently than those who have to vote more in line with what their supporters want. You might see a more “politically risky” vote from a term-limited senator that was previously quiet or moderate on a controversial issue. I believe there will be pressure on some of those members to take more progressive stances on “social safety net bills” than they have previously, before their terms conclude.

Economic Forecast Predicts Increased Surplus

On Monday, the Economic Forecasting board met to develop a projection of economic activity in Nebraska for the next couple of years. The Board meets two or three times a year and draws on data like the unemployment rate, gross receipts, average incomes, and other figures to advise the governor and the legislature what to expect for the state’s General Fund revenue. Their estimates are used to inform budget proposals, which the legislature will tackle on the floor soon.  The results of that meeting were positive: projected revenue receipts for the fiscal year increased by $370 million, and next year’s forecast increased by $405 million. If these estimates hold true, that leaves a healthy chunk of funds for legislators to work with on the floor.

Hearings Conclude

This was the final week of committee hearings, marking a turning point in the session when senators shift to full days of floor debate. Bills that have hearings this late in the session usually don’t have a good chance of advancing, for a few reasons. At this stage, all priority bills have been designated, committee “Christmas Tree” bills have been amended and may already be working their way through debate, and committees are mostly done holding votes on which bills to send out. Floor time continues to dwindle, and is reserved for those bills that have some kind of priority designation or those that are on the consent calendar. So in most cases, bills heard in the last week or two will “die in committee”, unless the introducer is able to demonstrate that they have majority committee support to advance it to the floor AND if they have a likely “vehicle”, or other priority bill that they have a good shot of attaching it to. 

Sharp observers might notice that committee chairs tend to schedule bills they dislike or don’t expect to advance on these later committee hearing dates; that’s why we always hope to get early hearings for the bills we really want to advance or think have the best shot. The exception to this could be Appropriations bills, as that committee has yet to present its budget to the body for debate and it could still be amended. But as time goes on it’s increasingly less likely that new measures will be amended into it. 

Some notable hearings that happened this week:

  • LB 815 (McKinney): Would require diaper changing tables in all public bathrooms, including in men’s and gender neutral bathrooms
  • LR 278CA (Linehan): Would place a measure on the ballot that, if passed by voters, would eliminate the State Board of Education, putting the Commissioner of Education completely under the Governor’s control
  • LB 1201 (DeBoer): ARPA funds for food banks and other food assistance
  • LB 1002 (McDonnell): ARPA funds for Low Income Heating & Energy Assistance
  • LB 1052 (J. Cavanaugh): ARPA funds for the Homeless Assistance Program
  • LB 1203 (Briese): ARPA funds for childcare programs to address pandemic-related needs
  • LB 1079 (B. Hansen): Would send half of remaining ARPA funds directly to Nebraskans on prepaid debit cards
  • LB 1182 (Pansing Brooks): Would require the state to reimburse the cost of PPE purchased by school employees

The Week Ahead

In an announcement before senators left for a long weekend, the Speaker noted that 21 days remain to complete General and Select File debate. At least eight of those days will be discussions about the budget bills, including the General Fund budget and the ARPA budget.

Given that 64 priority bills remain on General File, he said it’s unlikely that all priority bills will be completed this session. He cautioned the body that the amount of bills they’re able to finish depends on their being judicious about time spent on debate. This week resumes a normal 9am-5pm(ish) debate schedule, but more debate hours will be added soon, with late nights beginning next week.

Likely to take much of this week’s debate time is a motion from Sen. Brewer to pull his LB 773 from committee.  A pull motion is a way for a member to force their bill out of committee and onto the floor if the committee fails to advance it. That is, if a bill doesn’t have the votes in committee, a member can circumvent the committee process by getting 25 votes on the motion to pull it from committee. These are nearly always controversial, and we can expect a filibuster on this one. It’s a bill to allow “constitutional carry”, or concealed carry of firearms without a permit.

Wednesday’s agenda will tentatively include two bills with the highest price tags of the year: LB 1023, which would create a new recreational lake between Lincoln and Omaha; and LB 1015, which would create the Perkins County Canal near Colorado. The remainder of the week, Hilgers said, will depend on how the pull motion plays out. 

Until Next Week,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall