Bzzzzzz! The Fly on the Wall is back and ready to report on the first week of the new legislative session! It’s been a busy first few days at the Capitol as senators return from their home districts from across Nebraska. Although many senators stay busy with policy work, community meetings, and preparing legislation over the seven-month interim, they haven’t all been together in the chamber since the end of May. Sessions run in two-year cycles and this is year two, meaning they’re in a “short session” with only sixty working days to get everything done before they adjourn for the year. Because they’re in a short session, there is less pomp and circumstance (no swearing in of new senators, no debate on the rules, and no election of new chairs), and they get right down to business.
Confirmation of a New Ombudsman
One of the often-overlooked jobs of the legislature is appointing and confirming various government positions. This week, senators debated and approved the hiring of a new ombudsman, Julie Rogers, after Marshall Lux retired last year. Before that vote, however, the debate focused on whether another candidate (the interim acting ombudsman Carl Eskeridge) was more deserving of the position. This is a good reminder that the ombudsman and their office is a great resource to use to resolve any conflict you might have with a state agency or program, including the child welfare system, the Department of Corrections, or the Department of Health and Human Services.
Introduction of New Bills
Senators can introduce new bills in the first ten days of the session, so these first few days are filled with excitement as we see what issues we’ll be debating this year. Here are some that may be of interest to you all...
Bills to alleviate hunger
Sen. Cavanaugh, Sen. Vargas, and Sen. Hunt- all of Omaha- introduced four bills that would help address food insecurity for working Nebraskans and their families.
Tipped minimum wage
Sen. Hunt of Omaha introduced a bill that would increase the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.13/hour to $4.50/hour.
Bills to implement Medicaid Expansion
Two bills would continue to put pressure on the Department of Health and Human Services to follow the will of the voters and finally implement Medicaid Expansion. LB815 from Sen. Morfeld of Lincoln would prohibit DHHS from applying for waivers to the federal government, which are often used by states to implement provisions such as work requirements or tiered coverage. LB932 from Sen. Wishart of Lincoln would require DHHS to follow through and implement expansion by October 1st of this year.
After introduction, bills are then sent to the committees to be scheduled for a public hearing. Use the search feature on the Nebraska Legislature’s website to search for a bill and see when its hearing will be! And remember- senators are always looking for input from those who work directly in these areas. Reach out to Laurie or Jo if you are interested in testifying at a public hearing on a bill important to you or those you work with!
Debate of Paid Sick Leave
In addition to the introduction of new bills, senators began to debate bills that are “carried over” from last year. Every year, there are too many bills introduced than they have time to debate and vote on so, at the beginning of every short session, they have time to go back to where they left off last year before they start debating new bills.
This week, they debated LB305 from Sen. Crawford of Bellevue, which would adopt the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act. This bill would give workers five days per year of paid time off if they or a family member are sick or are victims of domestic violence. Unfortunately, many senators argued against the policy, saying they don’t want another mandate on small businesses. If debate hits three hours, the introducer must show the Speaker of the Legislature that they have thirty-three of the forty-nine senators who would vote in favor in order for the bill to be put back on the agenda for more debate before a vote can be taken. Otherwise the bill is pulled from the agenda and not debated again. Tune in Tuesday morning for the last hour of debate, and I will try to keep you posted on whether there is enough support to get it rescheduled! This is a great time to have those you serve to contact your senator to show your support for this issue.
Whew! As you can see, senators have already covered so much in their first seven days of the sixty-day session! Next week, senators begin committee hearings, an important way for senators to hear from the public on key issues affecting their constituents.
Until next week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall