Even as COVID numbers decline in the Lincoln community, the virus continues to force the Legislature to adjust, disrupting longstanding norms and procedures. Senators trudged through the first week of all-day hearings, at times in near-empty hearing rooms. It seems, however, that the public is catching on to the new ways to give input on bills that senators are offering in place of in-person testimony. Hopefully, senators take the time to go through the written testimony and position letters before deciding the fate of the almost 700 bills currently in committee.
All-day Hearings Begin, Senators Hear Testimony on Several Key Bills
The combination of starting the week off with a massive snowstorm – with one of the first instances of staff and senator quarantines after COVID exposures in the building – made for a somewhat anticlimactic start to public hearings. The usually buzzing Capitol was oddly quiet. Nevertheless, the fourteen standing committees continued their long days listening to both morning and afternoon testimony.
Committees heard several bills that may be of interest to CSN members, including:
- Bills in the Business and Labor Committee on Monday that would support workers, including LB298 (to extend unemployment benefits to immigrants), LB260 (to extend unemployment benefits to those caring for sick family members), and LB249 (to prohibit employers from requiring past salary information).
- Nine bills in the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that would help renters facing eviction, including LB205 (to regulate late fees charged by landlords), LB45 (to allow judges the ability to reschedule eviction hearings when requested by tenants), and LB128 (to allow those who have faced eviction to ask the courts to seal these records).
- A proposed constitutional amendment in the Revenue Committee (LR22CA) that would cap the amount of property tax money local governments can raise at three percent, potentially limiting funding to public schools.
- Bills in the Health and Human Services Committee on Friday that aim to improve public assistance programs, including LB306 (to increase eligibility to home energy assistance) and LB495 (to increase foster care reimbursement rates).
This is just a snapshot of the bills heard in committee this week. You can look through the hearing schedule to see all of the bills heard and to look at the upcoming week’s schedule.
Did You Miss a Hearing? Follow These Steps!
If you’re like me and accidentally miss a hearing you were intending to watch, there are several ways to catch up. Although there are no video links provided by the Legislature (you can only watch the stream live), I often look online to see if there was any press coverage that will summarize the hearing for me (don’t forget the Legislature’s own Unicameral Update!) Another step you can take is to ask a senator or staffer to put a rush request on the transcripts from the transcriber’s office. All hearings are eventually transcribed and available on the website but are available sooner if an office puts in this request. Finally, if a committee votes to advance a bill from the committee, the committee statement is posted on the bill’s landing page and lists the proponents and opponents who testified at the hearing along with other key information on the bill.
First Bills Advance from Committee
As hearings continue, committees have begun to hold closed executive sessions to vote bills out of committee to the floor of the legislature. Usually, the bills that advance right away have a better chance of getting scheduled on the agenda before the bottleneck of bills forms mid-session. To see if a bill has advanced, search the bill on the legislative website and search the list of actions to see if “Placed on General File” is listed. If so, the committee statement will also be available where you can see how senators in committee voted. Once floor debate begins, these bills on General File (the first of three rounds of debate) will be the bills Speaker Hilgers will have available to put on the agenda first.
Redistricting Committee Finalized, Special Session May be Inevitable
The Executive Committee announced this week the nine senators who will serve on the Redistricting Committee. Not surprisingly, 32 of the 49 senators applied for one of these coveted spots to help draw new legislative and congressional districts based on recent census data. The Executive Committee must choose three senators from each congressional district and no more than five of the nine members can be from the same political party. After much internal jockeying, the committee members chosen were: Blood, Briese, Brewer, Geist, Lathrop, Linehan, Lowe, Morfeld, and Wayne.
These senators may be in for a long summer. The federal government announced this week that census data may not be finalized and available until July or later, meaning the Legislature would almost certainly have to hold a special session to complete this major task (they are scheduled to adjourn for the year in June). Special sessions are always controversial because they are an added cost to the state, but it seems they may have no other choice.
Until next week!
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall