Inside the Rotunda 2021: Week 21

Week 21 – Sine Die (for now…)

At last, we’ve completed the final week of the 2021 regular legislative session.  Sine Die, Latin for “without (additional) day” or the last official day of the year, was on Thursday.  Monday and Tuesday were recess days, leaving Wednesday as the only day in which substantive legislative business was conducted before the usual ceremonial pomp and circumstance that was held before final adjournment on Thursday.

Governor Vetoes & Overrides

This year, the Governor vetoed three bills: LBs 108, 306, and 147.  You can read the Governor’s statement on his veto decisions here.  Each one then had a veto override vote. 

  • LB 108 (McCollister) SNAP Cliff Effect Bill: Allows more Nebraskans to take a raise or earn more money while retaining SNAP benefits, preventing them from passing up a better job or a pay increase for fear of losing food benefits for their family.  It passed final reading with 33 votes, and then narrowly overcame the Governor’s veto with exactly the 30 votes needed to do so. 
  • LB 306 (Brandt) LIHEAP bill: Expands eligibility for LIHEAP, or Low Income Home Energy Assistance, to help lower income Nebraskans pay their energy bills for heating and cooling.  It passed with 38 votes, and overcame the veto with 32 votes.
  • LB 147 (Kolterman): Puts the state in charge of managing the Omaha Public Schools retirement plan.  It is currently managed by the OPS retirement system board of trustees.  The bill had passed with 38 votes, and overrode the Governor’s veto with 31. 

Wednesday concluded with debate over a motion by Sen. Mike Flood to provide that Sen. Halloran’s LR 14, which calls for a Convention of States, “not stand as indefinitely postponed”.  Earlier this session, the controversial measure failed on a motion to pull it out of committee after it did not have the votes to be advanced to the floor through the standard process.  Legislative rules dictate that after it failed on the pull motion, the measure be considered “indefinitely postponed” or dead for the year.  Flood’s motion would mean that the bill not be indefinitely postponed, which means that it could come up for debate in next year’s session.

The motion succeeded with 30 votes, meaning the measure will likely be debated next year.  It calls for a Constitutional Convention at which states could propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution, including limitations on federal power and jurisdiction, fiscal restraints on the federal government, and term limits for members of Congress – though opponents have warned of the potential for a Constitutional Convention to go far beyond the scope established in LR 14. 

Special Session on Redistricting to be held in September

Also on Wednesday, Senators adopted LR 134, which lays out the guidelines to be used by the Legislature during the 2021 redistricting process.  There were some minor differences about some details of those guidelines, but the resolution had substantial support to pass.  This is only the first step in the redistricting process. 

The redistricting process occurs every 10 years following the federal census and is based upon changing population data.  The decisions made will shape congressional and legislative districts for the next 10 years and can have a significant impact on the political makeup of those districts and their representation.  District boundaries are supposed to be drawn in a way that doesn’t favor any political party, but this doesn’t stop actors on all sides from trying to use the process to their advantage – so the details around it can be understandably contentious.  Expect lots of heated debate on this next year.

With this year’s census data delayed due to COVID, final figures will be available late August. The Redistricting committee will then meet to begin initial plans, and then the full body will reconvene at some point in September to move the plans forward.  This special session is likely to be brief, but we have few details at this stage.

Final Thoughts

Overall, it’s been an odd session.  From where this Fly sits, there’s a general sense that the ripple effects of the pandemic played out in a lack of social engagement among Senators that is so crucial in building the goodwill and compromise necessary to move bills forward.  The usual camaraderie that happens after time together on and off the floor was notably missing this year, especially with a new class of Senators who have had little opportunity to build bonds and network with the rest of the body.  Things seemed stiff and tensions seemed high, despite a relative lack of really controversial hot button issues introduced as bills or selected as priorities this year.  While the body is a nonpartisan Unicameral, both “sides” showed they have substantial willpower and prowess to stop measures they don’t like, and gamesmanship happened on and off the floor.  Purely speculative, but with more of the population being vaccinated and things returning to normal this summer, here’s hoping we might see a rejuvenated Legislature return next year having taken some long-needed vacations and maybe getting to know each other a little better with some of the COVID stress removed. 

Over the interim, along with the usual bill research, constituent services, and meetings, Senators will work on their interim study resolutions to study issues more in depth and usually to set the stage for a bill they might introduce next year.  You can find the listing of interim studies here.  But Senator’s projects aren’t limited to the LRs they introduce.  Views on the utility of interim study resolutions vary, but they’re generally reserved for larger projects that need some leverage to gather information and input from a variety of sources that might benefit from having an “official” study done (and maybe a hearing).  But most Senators’ offices will have a list of smaller research projects they’ll complete independently.  This is also the best time to contact your Senator if you have a bill idea, so they have time to work on it over the summer and before they narrow down their list of priorities. 

Next year’s session will be a short 60-day session.  Bills remaining on the “worksheet”, or those bills out of committee hanging out on general or select file, typically get an opportunity to be debated early on in the short session in the period before new bills get a chance to work their way out of committee and new priorities are selected. 

I’ll have two more updates for you around the Special Session in September. Until then, I’m on summer vacation!

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall