Inside the Rotunda, Week Five

Legislating: Sometimes it’s like Football

Ever watch a football team lose a game because the coaches mismanaged the clock? Similar misfortunes can happen in the game of legislating. When votes are tight and opposition to a bill is strong enough to derail it, senators and staff try to make the Rules of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature work in their favor. Often, those who master the rules, get what they seek.

Various floor procedures are used to outmaneuver. For instance, “bracket” motions and other priority motions are used to delay a vote, sometimes preventing an introducer from bringing a compromise amendment that could achieve successful cloture, which is an action to cease debate on a bill and vote immediately on its advancement.

(Unlike football, the Legislature doesn’t penalize for a delay of game).

Cloture requires 33 votes, so opponents of bills can wield enormous power. If a bracket motion is made and cloture is eventually invoked, only other priority motions, the committee amendment and the underlying bill are voted on. All other amendments filed are passed over.

One procedure often used on the floor when votes are tight is a “call of the house.” This procedure compels attendance of unexcused senators in the Chamber prior to a vote on an bill, amendment or motion. Any senator may move for a call of the house and a majority of senators voting is required to place the house under call. You will often see senators display their “rushing game” by bolting back into the Chamber after a call of the house. Sometimes they are coming back from meetings. Sometimes they are coming back from the bathroom and quite often staff are frantically calling their bosses on their cell phones to tell them the house is under call.

Budget and Taxes

There is an interesting story in the Lincoln Journal Star from Don Walton regarding Senator Tony Vargas and his proposal to increase income taxes for higher income earners and lower taxes for middle and lower income families. It’s a different narrative from the usual tax debate in the Legislature and Open Sky Policy Institute supports the measure.

In budget news, the Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing today on the Governor’s plan to end Title X funding for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. This Midlands Voice piece in the Omaha World Herald offers reasons why this withholding of funds is unwarranted. This issue could prove volatile on the floor of the Legislature later this year.

Watch for updated revenue projections later this month as the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board meets. With the state trying to close an estimated $200 million budget gap, this board could decide if that number goes up or down. Either way, their votes will indicate if bills that cost the state money have a chance of becoming law.

Until next time,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall