Inside the Rotunda 2021: Week 19

Inside the Rotunda 2021: Week 19

This week, Senators pressed on in the third consecutive week of late night debates. 

Medical Cannabis (Barely) Fails to Advance

Senators took a filibuster of Sen. Anna Wishart’s LB 474 a full 8 hours, and in a nail-biting vote, it fell two votes short of the 33 needed to advance.  The measure earned support from members with a broad spectrum of political stripes before its defeat for the year.  Opponents fought it based on concerns about whether the Legislature should authorize a drug that is still technically federally prohibited, potential risk of harm to minors, and that it could be a slippery slope to legalization of recreational marijuana.   Supporters disputed these claims, citing a growing body of scientific evidence pointing to many cannabis’ safe and relatively low-risk medical applications, and saying that the legislature would be wise to adopt the tightly restricted version in Wishart’s bill which would be the most conservative medical cannabis law in the US.

Wishart and other supporters said that if the Legislature failed to advance the bill in this “last chance”, they would take the issue to voters on the ballot- this time with a one sentence constitutional right that would be much broader than the language in the bill.  This comes after advocates for medical cannabis conducted a successful petition drive last year, only to have the measure ultimately blocked after it was struck down by a court ruling saying it contained too many subjects.  There is a growing sense that medical cannabis legalization hopefuls will have better luck getting this placed on the ballot and passed in the next election.  Notably, Governor Ricketts has been a vocal opponent of any form of cannabis legalization, which likely contributed to some members’ refusal to vote in support of LB 474.

COVID Liability Protections Advance

Senator Briese’s LB 139, which provides businesses with liability protections against lawsuits alleging they negligently exposed someone to COVID, resoundingly advanced.  Under the bill, health care providers and facilities, schools, businesses, and churches could not be subject to lawsuits on this basis as long as they acted in compliance with federal public health guidelines.   An amendment further requires the Nebraska Medical Emergency Operations Center to develop a health care crisis protocol as a roadmap for how services and resources will be applied to patients in a future pandemic emergency. 

Supplemental Developmental Disability Services for Kids Advances

Senator Machaela Cavanaugh’s bill LB 376, intended to reduce the waiting list for developmental disability services for children, advanced to select file following the adoption of a committee amendment.  As amended, it requires DHHS to apply for a three-year Medicaid waiver for children with disabilities as part of a new “family support program”.  Up to 850 individuals or families of children with disabilities requiring an intermediate level of care could participate in the program and be eligible for up to $10,000 in additional services.  The bill also states legislative intent to use American Rescue Plan dollars to partially fund the new program and to work to eliminate the developmental disability service waitlist. 

Conceal Carry Bill Pared Down

After receiving an unfavorable Attorney General opinion, Senator Brewer’s LB 236, a measure to allow counties to authorize concealed carry of a firearm without a permit, advanced with an amendment to trim the bill down substantially.  As amended and advanced by the body, the amendment guts the controversial permitless carry provisions of the original bill and replaces them with provisions related to the storage and transportation of concealed firearms. 

Sick and Safe Leave Fails

Senator Vargas’ LB 258 to grant workers paid “sick and safe” leave failed to advance after earning only 17 votes.  Advocates said that the need for paid sick time for workers is more urgent than ever after we’ve seen the wide-ranging damage the coronavirus pandemic inflicted upon workers who were forced to go to work sick.   The “safe” portion of the bill, they said, is needed to better support workers who may need to take time off following a sexual assault or domestic violence situation.  Opponents worried about potential costs to businesses.  We can expect to see some iteration of this bill return next year. 

Continued Showdown over Partisan Resolutions

After a hearing on the controversial LR 107 last week, this Tuesday will bring a hearing on 3 resolutions introduced by Senator Hunt in response to the language in LR 107 which she called overtly partisan.  Hunt has been bringing a series of resolutions in the same format and tone as LR 107, but expressing opposing views, to make a point about the precedent set by LR 107 and how it was referenced to the Executive Board.  Now it is LR 107’s opponents’ turn to speak their minds on Hunt’s 3 resolutions:

LR 118 – Condemning the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol and attempts to undermine democracy

LR 121 – Regarding Government response to COVID, celebrating vaccines and public health

LR 130 – Acknowledging the urgent threat of climate change and affirming policies that will protect the environment

Hunt also filed a series of amendments on LR 107 in a move that would suggest a potential filibuster attempt; though word on the street is that it may not be scheduled for debate this year, given Speaker Hilgers’ expressed desire to quickly wrap up remaining priority bills and conclude the session.

Other Bills Advanced

LB 320, Senator John Cavanaugh’s “tenants’ rights” package, was signed into law by the Governor.

LB 108, Senator John McCollister’s bill to address the SNAP “cliff effect”, passed final reading, and now goes to the Governor for signing.   This could be a contender for a Gubernatorial veto, given his recent statements against the bill.

Advanced to Final reading:

LB 306, Senator Tom Brandt’s bill to expand eligibility for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

LB 485, Senator Wendy DeBoer’s bill to expand child care subsidy eligibility

LB 64, Senator Brett Lindstrom’s bill to phase out Social Security Income Tax

-Advanced to select file: LB 568, Senator Patty Pansing Brooks’ bill to provide supports for students with excessive school absences

What’s Next

Putting an end to much buzz and speculation among Capitol insiders, Speaker Hilgers announced Thursday that the Legislature will adjourn “Sine Die” – Latin for “without day” meaning the final day of session for the year – on May 27.  This is a couple of weeks sooner than the tentative end to session on the planned calendar.  In welcome news for some, the Speaker has ensured there will be enough time to allow for an override of any potential Gubernatorial vetoes to occur.  Previous Speaker Scheer caught some heat for setting the schedule such that there wasn’t time for this to happen last year.  It takes 30 votes to override a veto by the Governor. 

The remainder of the Legislature’s substantive work will wrap up by the end of next week, he said, leaving that final week for tying up loose ends and getting bills through the final rounds of debate.  So expect most of the meaty stuff to happen in this coming week, with some potentially shorter days in the final week.  Most of us around here are relieved that the session will wrap up before the Memorial Day weekend. 

This week, lawmakers will convene at 9am on Tuesday, then have potential late night debate the rest of the week.  With several designated recess days, only eight working days remain in the 2021 session!

Until next week,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall