Inside the Rotunda 2021: Week 12

Housing Protection Bill Advances, Student Restraint Bill Stalls and Debate Highlights

With all-day floor debate well underway, we’re finally getting to the juicy parts of the legislative session. A lot happened this week as priority bills got their time on the agenda, and we finally got to see whether bills senators and staff have worked on for months (sometimes years!) either advanced or stalled.

Tenant protections bill package advances

On Thursday, senators ended the short week on a high note by advancing LB320, a package of seven bills aimed at improving landlord-tenant laws. Changes include the ability for those experiencing domestic violence to end a lease with an abusive partner (LB320), expanding the ability of renters to reschedule their court hearings if needed when facing eviction (LB45), and improved notice requirements when a landlord plans to enter a unit (LB268).

After Sen. John Cavanaugh prioritized LB320 earlier in the session, he worked closely with members of the Judiciary Committee, the committee legal counsel, renters’ groups, and landlord groups to find consensus on provisions of the bills in the package. Sen. DeBoer especially was instrumental in going back and forth between the groups and with committee members to suggest changes to the bill that would make it more likely to pass.

Their hard work paid off when, after little debate, the bill advanced to select file on a 42-3 vote.

Student restraint bill attempts to rise from the dead…again

Wednesday was a day full of legislative maneuvering as senators had to yet again try to block a bill that would authorize teachers to use physical intervention to manage student behavior to protect themselves, the student, or others from physical injury. In past years, Sen. Groene carried the bill, but this year it came in the form of Sen. Murman’s LB673.

After it became clear that LB673 was stuck in the Education Committee, on Wednesday, Sen. Murman attempted to amend it onto LB529, an Education Committee priority bill. The Education Committee held an emergency executive session to kill LB673 which – according to the legislative rules – meant Sen. Murman needed 30 (instead of 25) votes to attach his amendment to LB529.

Some senators in support of the amendment called the move to kill the bill in committee sneaky (even though this fly would argue the sneakier move is trying to amend a bill that has failed many times over and has not advanced from committee onto a mostly unrelated bill).

After some debate, Speaker Hilgers ruled that Sen. Murman’s amendment would in fact need 30 votes because it was similar to LB673. Sen. Murman then withdrew his amendment when it became clear he did not have the 30 votes needed to attach it to LB529.

Senators then voted 28-6 to advance LB529 to select file. The main provision of the bill allocates approximately $100 million in lottery funds to education-related programs over the next five years.

Other floor debate highlights:

  • Sen. Wayne and others successfully blocked LB215, which would have increased landline and wireless fees in Douglas County to fund 911 services. The bill had the uncommon result of simply not getting enough votes to advance, stalling with 20 yes votes when it needed 25.
  • LB197, introduced by Sen. Vargas and prioritized by the speaker, advanced to select file. This bill would make AmeriCorps participants eligible for in-state tuition at Nebraska colleges.
  • Two economic development bills (LB40 and LB544) advanced from general file with no opposition. LB544 would provide tax credits to businesses in impoverished areas of Omaha while LB40 would facilitate development by attracting new businesses near railroads in small towns. The speaker was smart to have the bills debated back-to-back to ease the usual urban vs. rural fighting that tends to happen with these types of funding bills.
  • Senators continued to debate Sen. Michaela Cavanaugh’s priority LR29, which would create a special legislative committee to investigate and oversee the state’s troubled child welfare contract with St. Francis Ministries. It seemed the main hang up for those opposed is a provision that grants the committee subpoena power. Committees’ ability to force individuals (namely agency heads from the executive branch) to show up to committee hearings has been a much-debated issue the past few years.

Tune in next week as senators continue debate on LR29 along with other priority bills and bills the speaker placed on the consent calendar agenda.

Until next week,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall