Halloran Reprimanded, Sports and Spaces Act Defeated, Winner-Take-All Push Lacks Support

Governor Signs Budget, No Line-Item Vetoes

The Governor signed into law the mid-biennium budget adjustments without using his veto pen this time. It’s slightly unexpected for him to sign the budget bills as-is, but there could be a couple of reasons here: the bills (LBs 1412 and 1413) didn’t diverge all that much from his own recommendations, leaving few items as likely targets for a veto; and he may not have been looking to waste any remaining debate time on override motion fights when lawmakers have yet to come to a clear majority consensus on advancing his property tax relief package.

Property Tax Package On Shaky Ground

Both bills comprising the package — LB 388, which contains various tax increases on consumer goods and services to raise revenue that would fund an increase in state aid to schools; and LB 1331, which front-loads existing property tax credits and directs the revenue from LB 388 to public schools to lower local levies — have faced substantial challenges. LB 1331 was advanced, but only after opposition pressure forced proponents of LB 388 to agree to pull out the controversial sales tax increase component. That change put a major dent in the revenue formula needed to make LB 1331 work, so if proponents of the plan can’t come up with another funding source that’s palatable for 33 members of the body, the package may be dead.

One suggestion that’s been floating around is a pause or stepping back of the cut to the top income tax rates passed last year. Gov. Pillen is signaling his openness to this approach, however I’ve heard that thus far, Sen. Linehan — who championed that effort — has refused to budge on changing the income tax cuts. But we’re down to the wire now and with possible failure on the horizon, Gov. Pillen is surely going full court press on anyone standing in the way of his plan getting across the finish line, and that could include Linehan. Though nothing’s over yet; with both bills on Select File it is still possible that an 11th hour compromise could materialize and pass by Sine Die.

Halloran Reprimanded, Not Formally Censured

Following last week’s hearing on LR 335 in front of the Executive Board, which proposed formal censure of Sen. Steve Halloran for his remarks during floor debate last month, Exec Board Chair Aguilar announced this week that 8 of the board’s 9 members — all except Sen. Lowe — voted and signed onto a “letter of reprimand” condemning Halloran, apparently in lieu of advancing the resolution for lack of votes. The letter was read into the record on the floor by Clerk Metzler.

Aguilar also announced that the official investigation he initiated under the legislature’s workplace harassment policy was complete, finding that Halloran’s conduct did not break any laws, but did violate the workplace harassment policy. Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, the primary target of Halloran’s remarks, expressed anger at the handling of both her resolution and the announcement of the investigation’s results, saying she has been largely left out of these conversations, not notified of developments or consulted along the way. Other members spoke to echo her frustration, saying that this letter of reprimand from the Executive Board meant little and represented only a slap on the wrist from those 8 members rather than giving the entire body the opportunity to speak during a censure debate and to issue a more formal statement of condemnation of the term-limited Senator’s conduct. The body’s lack of official action, some said, effectively gives a pass to this type of behavior from legislators, and has dangerous implications for future legislators and staff who may experience or engage in this type of harassment.

Sports and Spaces Act Defeated

In a nail-biter of a vote, the legislature effectively killed Sen. Kauth’s anti-trans Sports and Spaces Act (LB 575) Friday afternoon. By now, I expect readers are familiar with the content of the bill and what it proposed. Sens. Brandt and Riepe were the two conservative swing votes that broke with the majority and helped to kill the bill by being “present not voting”. They were and will continue to be under enormous pressure from the small but vocal groups who support this kind of measure. If you or your organization appreciates their courage, call and/or e-mail their offices to let them know. Far-right hate groups will be targeting them and their staff with a lot of vitriol in the wake of their decisions, so a little love and appreciation to balance out the negativity would certainly be well-received.

Other News Bites

  • Sen. Mike McDonnell, who is often a swing vote on social issues, publicly announced his change of party registration from Democrat to Republican. This follows years of speculation that he’s had his eyes on a run for Mayor of Omaha and a recent vote from the Nebraska Democratic Party to censure him for his stance on abortion and LGBTQ rights bills.
  • I heard from multiple Senators that heard from Sen. Brewer that Donald Trump did indeed call to pressure him about Winner Take All last week. Brewer was likely targeted because he chairs the Government committee, where Sen. Lippincott’s bill to do away with Nebraska’s system of splitting electoral votes currently languishes. Brewer has the power to hold an executive session to get a committee vote to potentially send the bill to General File (if it had the votes), but he’s remained firm in his stance that it’s too late, the bill doesn’t have a priority, and he won’t. Rumblings of a special session on Winner Take All are still being tossed around, but after Sen. McDonnell has publicly affirmed that he wouldn’t vote to change Nebraska’s electoral system, all signs point to the fact that proponents don’t have the numbers to get it passed even in a special session unless something major changes.
  • LB 1402, Sen. Linehan’s bill to circumvent the will of the voters on having a say in the use of public dollars for private schools, is rumored to be on the agenda for debate Tuesday, and I’ve heard that some of the usual suspect moderate-conservative swing votes may be against it. Still, if this is important to you, let your senators know.

What’s Left

There are three session days this week: Tuesday and Wednesday are scheduled late nights, and Thursday is a work-through-afternoon day. Then, legislators won’t reconvene until the following Thursday, April 18 for Day 60, the final day of session.

Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall