Inside the Rotunda, Week Eight

Tension in the Chamber

As the Nebraska Legislature adjourned Friday, an extraordinary scene ensued in the Legislative Chamber. The dispute was as much about legislative process as substance. The scene began when Senator Murante introduced a motion on Senator McCollister’s LB350 to return that bill from Final Reading to Select File for a specific amendment. Legislative rules dictate that a bill cannot be amended on Final Reading, but can be sent back to Select File for an amendment. The bill in question, LB350, allows an individual to petition a court to set aside certain convictions once a sentence has been completed. Senator Murante wanted to return the bill to Select File for an amendment that said that that those rights would not include the right to vote, a provision many saw as unnecessary because the underlying bill did not propose changes to the current two-year waiting period for restoration of voting rights for felons. The Murante motion ripped the scab off of an old wound from last year when Governor Ricketts vetoed a bill that Senator Justin Wayne introduced to eliminate the two-year waiting period.  The Murante motion was seen by many members of the body as an unnecessary affront to Senator Wayne and Senator Chambers and the motion was voted down. Senator Murante then introduced another motion to recommit the bill to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee that Senator Murante chairs. The bill had gone through the Judiciary Committee, so this motion further exacerbated the anger.

As the Legislature neared the Noon hour, most Senators, including Senator McCollister, wanted to finish the debate, but a motion to adjourn, which carries priority over other motions, was made. The votes on these motions automatically go to a voice vote unless a member of the body requests a record vote. When Speaker Scheer called for the voice vote, the nays appeared to have it, but he ruled to adjourn. During this process, Senator Howard tried to interject for a record vote, but the Speaker either didn’t understand what was happening or didn’t hear Senator Howard. As the body adjourned and the NET cameras were cut, Senator Chambers continued to speak for five minutes, threatening to hijack the session, as senators and staff stood around listening.

Speaker Scheer has promised that LB350 would be scheduled again the next time the Legislature has Final Reading, but once that happens debate will resume on the motion to send the bill to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. The damage from Friday’s tension is likely to carry over into this week as Senator Chambers may be motivated to eat up as much time on the legislative clock as the rules will allow – even on bills he isn’t trying to kill. Expect an interesting week in the Legislature and attempts by some in the body to diffuse tensions in the aftermath of these extraordinary events.

Priorities Set

With designations complete for Senator, Committee and Speaker Priorities we now have a roadmap for the remainder of session. The Legislature will be moving into full-day sessions on Wednesday as hearings end tomorrow. Committees will make important decisions this week about what bills to add on or package in to their priority bills. Tax bills appear to be hung up in the Revenue Committee, but senators can make a motion on the floor to pull priority bills out of committee and debate them on the floor. Expect a few those motions this session, including one on Senator Erdman’s property tax bill, which many find problematic.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride the rest of the session. Hang on tight.

Until next time,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall