Inside the Rotunda, Week Nine

Spring Awakening

The weather isn’t the only thing warming up. So is the George Norris Legislative Chamber. With all-day floor debate in full bloom, priority bills selected and late nights about to begin, the Nebraska Legislature will soon be debating some of its most high-profile and contentious issues.

Front and center will be the budget bills, one of which includes a provision to restrict funding to Title X clinics, which provide preventative health care services to women and rural Nebraskans. Because Planned Parenthood clinics offer these services, along with family planning, it inserts an ideological fight about abortion into the state budget debate. This will be a messy fight on the floor. In positive budget news, the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Board raised its revenue projections by $55 million compared with the October forecast. The forecast gave breathing room to the Revenue Committee and may have had some immediate benefit to the University of Nebraska, which is now looking at a 1% cut in 2018-19, rather than the 4% proposed by the Governor. However, Chairman Stinner has cautioned that the more positive figures are not yet robust.

The overcrowding crisis in Nebraska prisons will be among those topics that get considerable attention on the floor also. LB841 (Pansing Brooks) is a Judiciary Committee priority and will include a number of other omnibus bills to alleviate the overcrowding crisis. Meanwhile, staff turnover at Nebraska prisons has increased to 34%.

The Importance of Three Hours

Last week, the Legislature reached the three hour mark on LB158 (Pansing Brooks) to require appointment of counsel in juvenile court proceedings. Senator Groene led a successful filibuster, but Senator Pansing Brooks believes she still has the votes to invoke cloture, or end debate, and will be requesting that the Speaker put the bill back on the agenda soon. Under procedures set by Speaker Scheer last year, a bill is automatically removed from the agenda if a filibuster is still taking place after three hours of debate. There are many Capitol insiders who do not like this new process because a bill is not considered fully debated until the 6-hour mark, so those filibustering are more easily able to run the clock out for a three-hour stretch and prevent resolution of the issue. As a result, bills linger longer in a state of limbo.

However, three hours of debate wasn’t an issue last week for LB1078 (Crawford), which received overwhelming approval to require reporting of sexual abuse allegations for those in state custody.

Horse Massages

Expect interesting floor debate this week on Senator Groene’s LB596, which deals with equine massage therapy. The transcript of the hearing on LB596 will no doubt provide some moments of levity on the floor. The bill was up for debate Thursday before adjournment, and a few Senators were buzzing and ready to speak, but a motion was made to adjourn early, and despite a few groans, the “neighs” didn’t carry the day.

Until next time,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall