Inside the Rotunda 2021: Week 10

Priority Bill Selections, Tension-Filled Executive Session, and Final Hearings

Wow, time flies! We’ve already reached the midpoint of the 90-day legislative session. Friday marked the last committee hearing date and the deadline for senators and committees to designate their priority bills. Those milestones along with a couple of substantive floor debates and the first handful of bills passed and delivered to the governor’s desk made for a bustling week as senators prep for all-day floor debate starting this upcoming week.

Senators designate personal and committee priority bills

Below are the key anti-poverty bills that senators have prioritized. Most have already advanced from committee so could be scheduled for debate by the full legislature soon.

  • LB306 (introduced and prioritized by Sen. Brandt): Expands eligibility for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) from 130% of the federal poverty level to 150%.
  • LB320 (introduced and prioritized by Sen. John Cavanaugh): As amended by the Judiciary Committee, combines several bills to provide protections for renters, including creating a way for victims of domestic violence to safely break their leases, making it easier for judges to postpone eviction hearings when necessary, and requiring landlords to give better notice before they enter a renter’s dwelling.
  • LB485 (introduced and prioritized by Sen. Wendy DeBoer): Expands eligibility for child care subsidies to families whose income is less than 185% of the federal poverty level.
  • LB258 (introduced by Sen. Vargas and prioritized by Sen. Matt Hansen): Requires employers with four or more employees to provide employees with access to paid sick and safe leave.
  • LB64 (introduced by Sen. Lindstrom and prioritized by Sen. Kolterman): Phases out the taxation of social security benefits over five years.
  • LB108 (introduced and prioritized by Sen. McCollister): Increases the gross income limit for SNAP to 185% of the federal poverty level, up from 130%.
  • LB298 (introduced and prioritized by Sen. McDonnell): Makes all work-authorized Nebraska workers eligible for unemployment benefits regardless of immigration status.

Senators also prioritized several bills that deal with alleviating property taxes, so watch for that issue to make yet another appearance (or multiple) during floor debate.

Business and Labor Committee members wrangle in executive session

On Tuesday, the Business and Labor Committee voted to advance LB260 (Hunt), which adds “caring for a family member with a serious health condition” to the list of reasons that are considered good cause for leaving employment when determining eligibility to receive unemployment benefits.

After that vote and votes on some other noncontroversial technical bills, Chairman Ben Hansen wanted to adjourn. However, it was then moved and seconded that senators vote on a bill that Chairman Hansen had chosen not to put on the agenda. He believed this to be against the rules (it isn’t) and members waited while he went to get it sorted out.

After conferring with Speaker Hilgers and the clerk, Chairman Hansen decided to schedule another executive session for later in the week so that all the bills that senators wanted to vote on could be advanced. While it is unusual for committee members to try to overpower the chair, it is somewhat expected when a more conservative senator chairs a committee that has enough progressive members to advance desired bills from the committee.

As a result, on Thursday, the committee advanced LB241 (provides workplace protections for meatpacking workers during COVID-19), LB258 (provides paid sick and safe leave), and LB451 (prohibits natural hair discrimination in the workpace).

Judiciary Committee hears bills on medical cannabis, abortion

On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee heard Sen. Wishart’s LB474, a bill that would create a framework for legalizing medical cannabis use in Nebraska. It marks the fifth year in a row that Sen. Wishart has introduced the bill. The issue was close to being passed by ballot initiative last year, but a judge removed it from the ballot due to a technicality.

Notable testifiers in support included former Husker football player Grant Wistrom (who now owns and operates a dispensary in Springfield, MO), Dr. Amanda McKinney, a physician and medical educator specializing in medical cannabis, as well as several parents who want their children suffering from epilepsy and other ailments to have access. The usual parade of opponents followed, however, including the chief medical officer for DHHS and the Nebraska State Patrol Superintendent.

Watch for the issue to pick up steam, as Gov. Ricketts claimed this week at a press conference that legalized marijuana would “kill your kids” and Sen. Wishart chose Friday to make it her priority bill this session.

On Friday, the Judiciary heard its last remaining bill, Sen. Hunt’s LB276, which would allow patients to receive abortion services through telehealth. The hearing was surprisingly quiet, with few testifiers in opposition. The committee did not vote to advance the bill and it received no priority, meaning it may sit in committee for the year.

Until next week!

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall