Another week is complete down at the Capitol! Senators and staff limped through the full schedule of hearings and finally made it to the first recess day of the session. On Thursday, Speaker Hilgers announced that most committees will wrap up hearings by March 4th (the Judiciary Committee will get an extra week to finish hearings for their over 150 bills). All-day floor debate will then begin on March 15th. With over a quarter of the session already behind us, we’re chugging right along.
Broadband access, paid leave, childcare assistance, and more!
There are again several public hearings to highlight from the week:
- On Monday, the Transportation and Telecommunications committee heard LB388 (introduced by Sen. Friesen), a bill that would put aside $20 million per year to expand broadband access to underserved areas of the state. Governor Ricketts testified in support, saying that it was important infrastructure needed to keep the state growing.
- Also Monday, the Business and Labor Committee heard bills that would support struggling Nebraskans, especially during the pandemic. LB171 (Sen. Matt Hansen) would increase weekly unemployment benefits for those with children. LB290 (Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh) would create a paid family and medical leave insurance program. LB258 (Sen. Vargas) would require employers to provide at least one week of paid sick and safe leave.
- On Wednesday, the Executive Board heard LR29, a proposal by Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh to create an investigative committee to look into the craziness still going on with the way the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has handled the child welfare contract for the Omaha metro area. Adding to the drama, the former CEO of DHHS testified in support, confirming that the bid that won the current contract was in no way enough to adequately fund needed services.
- Also, on Wednesday, the Health and Human Services Committee heard LB485 (Sen. DeBoer), which would expand who would be eligible to receive childcare assistance to 185 percent of the federal poverty level (up from the current 130 percent). Of course, the director of the Division of Children and Family Services at DHHS testified in opposition, claiming it would be too expensive for the state.
This is just a snapshot of all the bills that might be of interest to you. Remember you can see a full list of hearings by week by visiting the legislative website and clicking on “hearing schedules.”
Floor debate scheduled for next week
After the Monday holiday (Happy Presidents’ Day!), senators will take a break from hearings to hold floor debate on Tuesday morning. Glancing at the agenda, it looks like first up will be mostly wonky bills from the Banking, Urban Affairs, and Transportation committees. This is normal; the first bills advanced from committee that reach the floor this early are usually uncontroversial fix-it type bills.
Remember you can check out a bill’s committee statement, published by committee staff once a bill is voted out of committee. There, you can see how senators voted in committee, read a summary of the bill and any amendments, and see who testified at the hearing.
Another way to see what may be coming up on the floor is to check a document called the worksheet. This handy document is published and updated by the speaker’s office and lists each stage of legislation and all the bills at that stage. When the speaker says he will schedule floor debate in “worksheet order” he is referring to the bills listed there under General File.
To find the current worksheet, click on the calendar from the homepage and the nearest upcoming session day. It will be listed in that day’s documents.
Priority bill deadlines announced
This week, Speaker Hilgers also announced the upcoming deadlines for senators to designate priority bills. A priority designation on a bill guarantees that it will get put on the agenda (many bills that advance from committee are stuck in limbo simply because there is not enough time to debate each and every bill before session ends). Each senator gets to prioritize one bill, most committees get two, and the speaker gets to designate a whopping twenty-five. Senators must send a letter to the speaker requesting a speaker priority designation by March 10th and must choose their own priority bills by March 11th.
Most senators wait until the deadline to reveal their picks, but a few have already chosen. You can find a list of current priority bills on the website by clicking on the “Priority Bill Listing” headline on the main page.
Key issues this week
Hearings continue after the Monday holiday and floor debate Tuesday morning. It’s a big day Wednesday with key hearings include the Executive Committee where Sen. McCollister will introduce a bill on redistricting reform; Sen. Slama’s controversial bills in the Government Committee on voter ID’s and reverting back to a winner-take-all system for electing the president; and the Health and Human Services Committee will hear bills to increase access to SNAP benefits (formerly known as the food stamp program).
That’s all for now!
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall