Inside the Rotunda: 2021 Week 5

The slog of all-day committee hearings continued this week, filling five full days with over 150 bills heard in fourteen committees. In a normal year, morning floor debate breaks up the hearing monotony and gives senators a chance to chat and develop relationships with each other. Speaker Hilgers, however, chose to schedule all-day hearings first in order to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among senators (and to try to prevent the conundrum of what to do if a key vote occurs while senators are under quarantine). Hearings, on the other hand, allow for senators to come and go as needed as opposed to floor debate when one or two absent senators could change the outcome of a key vote.

Senators Introduce A TON of Bills to Committees

Blink and you may have missed one of the several hearings on topics of interest to CSN members. Here’s a quick summary of some of those bills:

  • On Monday, the Business and Labor Committee heard Sen. Hunt’s LB122, which would eliminate the tipped minimum wage. 
  • On Tuesday, the Education Committee heard Sen. DeBoer’s LB132 and Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh’s LB117. LB132 would create a commission that would provide informed recommendations on the state’s funding of K-12 schools, rather than the current system of relying on an outdated (and confusing) formula called TEEOSA. LB117 would create the Hunger-Free Schools Act, which would provide free breakfast and lunch to all public school students. 
  • Both the Urban Affairs Committee (on Tuesday) and the Judiciary Committee (on Wednesday) heard several bills on police reform and oversight, including Sen. Wayne’s LB551 and Sen. McKinney’s LB601, both of which would create a public searchable database on police misconduct. Other reforms discussed included limiting use of force techniques, requiring officers to intervene when a colleague is using excessive force, and updating accreditation and training requirements of law enforcement officers. 
  • Thursday afternoon brought another round of landlord-tenant bills in the Judiciary Committee. Policies proposed included prohibiting landlords from discriminating against a tenant’s source of income (Sen. Vargas’s LB196), allowing local governments to enact eviction moratoriums (Sen. Morfeld’s LB394), requiring tenants have legal representation in eviction proceedings (Sen. John Cavanaugh’s LB419), and requiring landlords to comply with new city registration requirements before they can recover any damages (Sen. McKinney’s LB453).
  • On Friday, the Judiciary Committee heard several bills that would increase protections for those who have experienced sexual assault and domestic abuse. Sen. Morfeld’s LB118 would extend the length of a protection order from one to five years. His LB519 would provide immunity for some alcohol and controlled substances violations when witnesses and victims of sexual assault come forward. Sen. Day’s LB372 and Sen. DeBoer’s LB497 would increase access to the Nebraska Crime Victims Reparations Act. 
  • On Friday, The Revenue Committee heard Sen. John Cavanaugh’s LB318, which would increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides a tax credit to low-income working families. 

Whew! Again, to see a full list of each week’s committee hearings, visit nebraskalegislature.gov and click on “Hearing Schedules.” This upcoming week will bring four full days of committee hearings before a much-anticipated recess day Friday ahead of the three-day weekend. 

Speaker Provides Clarification on New Public Input Options

At the beginning of session, Speaker Hilgers announced expanded options for those wishing to provide input on bills but who felt uncomfortable testifying in person at the committee hearings. 

All methods for providing input now include:

  1. The traditional in-person testimony.
  2. Dropping off written testimony to the committee staff between 8:30 and 9:30 am the day of the hearing.
  3. Submitting a position letter to the committee email or dropping off to the chair’s office by noon the day before.
  4. Submitting a public comment through a new online system found on a bill’s webpage.

Options 1 and 2 will get you a coveted spot listed by name on a bill’s committee statement, Option 3 will get your letter into the official bill record (but not in the committee statement), and Option 4 is not a part of the public record at all (but is the easiest to submit). 

This past week, many people had trouble trying to provide input using the new Option 2. Committee staff were telling them they were not formatting their testimony correctly (even though the very-detailed list of instructions did not list a required format). Adding to the dust up, members of the public and senators’ staff discovered that Speaker Hilgers had earlier emailed out a memo to lobbyists that provided clarification on how written testimony should be formatted but failed to list this clarification on the website or distribute to senators, staff, or the public. 

Thankfully, after advocates and senators reached out to Speaker Hilgers, he distributed the clarified instructions and listed them on the website. If you plan to use Option 2, I encourage you to revisit the website and read through the new instructions. 

This Week’s Upcoming Hearings

Tune in this week as committees continue to hold all-day hearings Monday to Thursday. Bills up include a bill vetoed last year that would prohibit hair discrimination and bills to increase unemployment and paid leave benefits (Monday in the Business and Labor Committee), a terrible proposed constitutional amendment that would severely limit school funding (Tuesday in the Education Committee), bills to increase childcare assistance (Wednesday in HHS Committee), and a resolution that would provide legislative oversight of the ongoing child welfare debacle happening in the Omaha metro area (Wednesday in the Executive Committee).

Until next week!

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall

The Capitol Fly on the Wall

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