Fly on the Wall 2022: Senators debate budget, ARPA spending debate coming up

Budget proposals were the theme of the week. But before diving into spending debates, the legislature advanced a proposal from Senator Briese that would enable Nebraska to move to permanent Daylight Saving Time. Appropriately held just after we turned our clocks to “spring forward”, the debate on LB 283 was one of the increasingly rare occasions where a priority measure is advanced with broad support across party lines. It advanced with 40 votes, meaning it’s likely to be signed into law. The shift would only go into effect if federal law enables states to adopt such a change, and if three adjacent states agree to a year-round time standard. The U.S. Senate approved permanent daylight savings time on Tuesday, meaning Nebraska could be steps closer to making permanent DST a reality.

All three bills to ban or restrict abortion failed to advance from committee in a Judiciary committee executive session. Each received 3 votes in favor and 5 votes against. LB 933, Sen. Albrecht’s “trigger ban” which has been prioritized by Speaker Hilgers, will be debated on a motion to pull the bill from committee on Friday. It’s certain to see a filibuster, but it’s unclear whether it’ll have 33 votes on cloture. The bill is called a “trigger ban” because it hinges on the fate of the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on whether to uphold or overturn Roe v. Wade, expected this summer. If Roe is overturned as many predict, that decision would “trigger” a complete ban on abortion in Nebraska.

Emergency Rental Assistance Advances

LB 1073 passed Select File on a voice vote, meaning it wasn’t debated further and individual votes weren’t counted. This sets it on a strong path to passage. A gubernatorial veto is still possible, but if the body can hold 30 votes on the measure to override a veto, it could succeed and immediately take effect. It had 29 votes on General File, meaning it would need a confirmed 30th vote to hold strong. It is scheduled to be on Final Reading on Wednesday. 

The State General Fund Budget

We’ve reached Budget Time in the session, which is the legislature’s only constitutionally-obligated business. That is, all the other non-budgetary bills to strike old laws, change them, or create new ones are completely optional; and the legislature can (and has, historically) conclude the session early so long as the state budget has been settled. 

This year, we have not only the typical handful of mid-biennium budget adjustment bills, but the ARPA proposal to contend with as well. Lots of things in play make the budget debate complex and more contentious than in a typical year. With an extra $450 million in state general funds to work with on the floor and around $1 billion in federal COVID relief funds to be allocated, many potential projects are competing for their slice of the pie. This year’s budget bills are LB 1011, LB 1012, and LB 1013.

Positives in the proposed budget include reimbursement rate increases for critical service providers including DHHS Medicaid, Developmental Disability, and Child Welfare providers.  Negatives include stagnant K-12 education funding that doesn’t account for inflation, and a focus on high-dollar building and infrastructure projects over investments in social supports and improving quality of life for struggling Nebraskans. 

Criminal Justice Reform vs More Prison Beds

The proposed budget includes $175 million to be set aside for the construction of a new state prison, half of what the Governor had requested. However, a portion of the body spoke out against moving forward with plans for a new prison facility if substantial criminal justice reforms like those in Judiciary Committee priority bill LB 920 aren’t advanced alongside it.  Opponents took time to criticize Nebraska’s overcrowding issue, which some said the state has failed to address for decades. Continuing to build prison capacity won’t get us out of this, they said, and more prison beds without accompanying sentencing reform would just be slapping an expensive temporary band-aid on the problem without addressing its roots. The budget bills were held up by opponents, led by Judiciary Chairman Lathrop, presumably in an effort to secure commitments from more senators to vote in favor of LB 920’s reforms. Ultimately the budget is likely to be advanced with that $175 million set aside – but not yet expressly authorized for- construction of a new prison. 

ARPA Proposal Released, Up for Debate Soon

In a briefing on Monday, Appropriations Chairman Stinner explained that the committee’s process for narrowing down the huge volume of ARPA proposals was this: using a ranking sheet like a secret ballot, after every 5 proposals, the committee ranked whether they’d be likely to support the proposal, maybe support it with changes, or not likely to support. Committee staff compiled these rankings on the secret informal “ballots” and those proposals that had support of 7+ members were kept in the running for further discussion.

LB 1014, containing the proposed plan for allocation of ARPA dollars, was designated as a Speaker’s Major Proposal by the Executive Board, meaning the Speaker has the authority to make decisions about the order in which amendments and motions are heard and the amount of debate time amendments receive. This was necessitated by the little remaining time to get the massive allocation of funds passed, said the Speaker, as well as the substantial set of federal restrictions the funds are subject to. Notable components for CSN readers include:

  • LB 1201, Senator DeBoer’s proposal to aid food banks, was partially included: the committee recommended $20 million, half of the $40 million proposed in the original proposal. It’s likely we’ll see an amendment to attempt to restore that funding back to the full $40 million.
  • LB 1024, Senator Wayne’s North Omaha Recovery proposal, would receive $150 million of the requested $450 million. While $150 million is not an insignificant number, the introducer and supporters of the plan are frustrated that it didn’t receive more. 
  • Funding for workforce housing was increased by the committee from $75 million to $91 million over the Governor’s recommendation, a net positive for advocates interested in housing issues.

Bill to Lift Lifetime SNAP Ban up Tuesday

LB 121, Senator Hunt’s priority bill which would lift the lifetime ban on food assistance for people with certain drug convictions, has been scheduled for debate Tuesday. Under current law, individuals with certain felony drug convictions are banned from receiving SNAP for life. LB 121 would provide that those people would be eligible for food assistance if they have served their time or are serving a term of parole, probation, or post-release supervision. These are individuals who in many cases made financially motivated mistakes earlier in life and who are now trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. Research shows that access to food is one of the most critical factors in a person’s reentry into society, and that SNAP access for the formerly incarcerated reduces the likelihood of recidivism. 

The last time this was on the floor in 2019, the bill failed on a cloture vote with 28 out of the 33 votes needed.  While it may have a simple majority of 25 votes in support, it will face a steep challenge to acquire the 33 necessary to overcome a filibuster and the 30 to override a likely veto. Governor Ricketts has spoken publicly against the measure, saying that individuals who have committed these crimes are not deserving of government assistance. Interestingly, Nebraska does not have this kind of ban on SNAP for any other type of conviction. We know that food security is not only a human right; it’s foundational to lifting people out of poverty. If you or your organization would like to get engaged, contact CSN to learn more about senators to target.

Other Things in The Week Ahead

The Speaker said it’s his goal that the second round debate of the state budget bills be completed by the end of the day on Thursday, and the ARPA proposal by Friday. He’s also made some scheduling changes due to the time crunch, like starting the first day of the week an hour earlier and shortening lunch breaks to one hour. There’s some tension among senators between the desire from some to contest portions of the budget & ARPA proposals versus the pressure to allow them to move forward so that more senators’ priority bills can be heard. Also on the docket this week:

  • AM 2414 to LB 939, an amendment by Senator John Cavanaugh, is scheduled for select file on Tuesday. The amendment would send $200 to every Nebraskan on a prepaid debit card, and include a tax cut which would be more beneficial to the middle class than the one in the underlying bill, which would primarily benefit the wealthy.
  • LB 1024, Sen. Wayne’s North Omaha Recovery Act, is scheduled for Tuesday. 
  • The pull motion debate on LB 933, Sen. Albrecht’s abortion ban, is set for Friday.

As of Monday 16 legislative days remain. The Session is scheduled to adjourn on April 20.

Until next week,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall