Inside the Rotunda 2021: Week 16

State biennial budget approved, sent to Governor

Members of the Legislature gave the final round of approval to the state’s two-year budget this week unusually early, leaving more time for the body to debate priority bills in the remainder of the session.  The $9.7 billion budget appropriates funding for the next two years of the state’s operating expenses and social services.  Other notable components include funds for customized job training grants for businesses through the Department of Economic Development, funds to alleviate the long wait list for developmental disability services, and additional public health funding. 

After much debate about the proposed funding for a potential new state prison facility intended to alleviate the state’s prison overcrowding problem, the budget passed final reading with $100 million to be held in reserve to address prison overcrowding, which will need to be appropriated by the Legislature next year should they decide to proceed with the much-discussed building of a new state prison facility.  This follows $15 million of the $115 million originally proposed being reallocated toward the study of alternative approaches to reducing overcrowding. Another $15 million was set aside to fund the design and planning for a potential new facility. 

The governor now has five days from the day of final reading passage on Tuesday to sign and approve, veto, or “line-item veto” or disapprove certain components of the budget package.  If the budget is returned with line-item vetoes, the Appropriations Committee has to report on the fiscal impact of the vetoes within a day.  The Committee can then move to override any of the governor’s line-item vetoes, which can be achieved with 30 votes. 

This Fly has not heard any rumblings of concerns about the threat of Gubernatorial line-item vetoes for any particular portion of the package, so by most accounts the budget is expected to be approved with little to no opposition from Governor Ricketts. 

Property tax relief proposals achieve mixed results

Senator Briese’s LB 2 faced extended debate before reaching a vote and advancing to the next round.  The proposal would lower the valuation for agricultural land for the purposes of school district taxes levied to pay bonds.  This is intended to shift some of the current property tax burden away from farmland owners.  It also increases the amount of relief granted under the Property Tax Credit Act.

Briese’s LB 408 succumbed to an 8-hour filibuster by opponents on Thursday.  The controversial measure aimed at reducing property taxes would place a limitation on local governments to no more than a 3% increase in their annual property tax requests.  Proponents say that the average property tax askings by local governments, about 4.5%, are too high and put a strain on homeowners who pay the price on their property tax bills; and that LB 408 would hold localities accountable by setting what some call a reasonable limit on growth.  Opponents maintained a filibuster against the bill, raising concerns that it would handcuff local governments and take away local control from municipal bodies who are elected and already accountable to their communities for the property tax decisions they make.  LB 408 could be seen as the state government overreaching by dictating an inflexible cap on taxes that should be decided locally, they said.  School lobbying groups and groups representing municipalities were among the primary opponents activating against the bill that exerted considerable influence among opposing senators. 

Convention of States pull motion fails

On Friday, Senators debated Senator Halloran’s motion to pull his LR 14 out of the Government committee where it was stuck and to place it on General File.  This is a procedural trick that is occasionally used by Senators who are unable to acquire the votes in committee to get their bill advanced to the floor in the usual manner.  Frowned upon by some, pull motions are provided for in the Legislative Rules.  The Rules provide that any Senator can move to place a bill on General File if the committee has not taken action on the bill after 20 calendar days.  For the motion to succeed, only a simple majority of 25 votes is required, and each Senator is allowed to speak once on the motion during debate.

LR 14 is a resolution to submit Nebraska’s application to Congress to call for a “convention of states”.  A convention of states is provided for in the Constitution and allows for states to hold a convention for the purpose of proposing amendments to the Constitution.  For a convention to be held, at least two thirds of the states must pass similar legislation approving it.  The way Halloran’s proposal is drafted, it would be for the “limited purpose” of proposing amendments related to fiscal restraints and limits on the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.  Opponents said the measure set a dangerous precedent by opening the door for sweeping changes to the Constitution beyond the original scope and intention for the convention, and that jeopardizing federal funding for vital services like Medicaid, SNAP and TANF would harm Nebraskans. 

In an unexpected turn of events, the motion failed, only receiving 23 votes.  This means the measure is dead for the year. 

Police reform bill advances

After many incidents of police-involved violence against people of color and protestors in the past year, the Judiciary committee took the lead on addressing the issue, holding a series of listening sessions and studying ways to increase police accountability and reduce violence perpetrated against people of color. The product of that work is Judiciary Committee Priority bill LB 51 – a bill that would increase certification and training standards for Nebraska law enforcement officers.  It would increase the number of continuing education hours required for all officers and create more stringent assessments and training standards in hiring practices.  Applicants would be required to complete de-escalation training including topics like implicit bias and how to approach people with mental health conditions.  LB 51 would also limit police use of chokeholds and deadly force.  The bill advanced after some discussion and negotiation, with 39 votes.  Supporters praised the efforts at collaboration from law enforcement agencies who worked in good faith on the legislation to raise their professional standards, as well as community organizers and advocates who pushed for reform. 

Other bills advanced

LB 669 (Vargas) – Gives priority admission for certain armed forces members at higher ed institutions

LB 451 (McKinney) – Prohibits natural hair discrimination

LB 485 (DeBoer) – Increases childcare subsidy eligibility.  It expands initial eligibility for families whose income is at or below 185% of the federal poverty level and allows families with income below 200% of the FPL to remain eligible, making childcare more affordable.

What’s next

The next two weeks will be dedicated to bills related to taxation and spending.  Speaker Hilgers announced the below list of bills that will be considered on General file in the coming couple of weeks.  Select File and Final Reading bills will continue to be scheduled as time allows between each of these proposals.   

LB 18 (Kolterman) Change provisions relating to equivalent employees and qualified locations under the ImagiNE Nebraska Act

LB 26 (Wayne) Provide a sales tax exemption for residential water service

LB 64 (Lindstrom) Change provisions relating to the taxation of social security benefits

LB 84 (Bostelman) Redefine terms relating to tax incentive performance audits and the ImagiNE

Nebraska Act

LB 103 (Dorn) Appropriate funds to aid counties to pay certain federal judgments

LB 132 (DeBoer) Create the School Financing Review Commission

LB 185 (Brewer) Appropriate funds to the Department of Health and Human Services for public health aid

LB 306 (Brandt) Provide eligibility requirements for the low-income home energy assistance program

LB 336 (Hughes) Provide for regular and limited annual and temporary state park entry permits

LB 366 (Briese) Change the Nebraska Advantage Microenterprise Tax Credit Act

LB 364 (Linehan) Adopt the Opportunity Scholarships Act and provide tax credits

LB 388 (Friesen, at the request of the Governor) Adopt the Nebraska Broadband Bridge Act

LB 396 (Brandt) Adopt the Nebraska Farm-to-School Program Act

LB 406 (McDonnell) Create the Lower Platte River Infrastructure Task Force and provide funding

LB 432 (Revenue Committee) Change income tax rates

LB 454 (Friesen) Adopt the School Property Tax Stabilization Act and change the valuation of

agricultural land

LB 542 (Walz) Authorize the issuance of highway bonds under the Nebraska Highway Bond Act

LB 566 (McDonnell) Adopt the Shovel-Ready Capital Recovery and Investment Act

LB 568 (Pansing Brooks) Change provisions relating to truancy, juvenile courts, the Community-based Juvenile Services Aid Program, the Commission Grant Program, and compulsory education

LB 579 (Moser) Change provisions relating to Department of Transportation reports regarding highway construction and state intent regarding appropriations

LB 595 (Albrecht) Provide a sales tax exemption for certain products used in the process of

manufacturing ethyl alcohol

LB 630 (Bostar) Provide for a study of the efficacy of commercial air filters in classrooms

LB 682 (Linehan) Change the New Markets Job Growth Investment Act

The Speaker further announced that Senators should plan for the coming weeks to include some late debate nights, as late as midnight if needed.  Finally, Hilgers noted that the last day of each week should now be expected to take a full day of debate, as opposed to the current practice of ending the week with a half day. 

Until next week,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall