This past week, senators completed yet another week of all-day hearings. Committees have held public hearings on almost 700 bills in just six weeks! Soon, they will finally be able to devote the majority of time to floor debate and voting bills across the finish line. Senators did, however, hold about fifteen minutes each morning of floor debate, which were mostly devoted to Sen. Groene opposing a technical Education Committee bill. Some perceive Sen. Groene’s opposition to the bill as sour grapes leftover from his loss of the committee chairmanship. Senators did eventually advance the bill and will move on next week to more substantive debate.
Committees hold public hearings on controversial issues
Committees held hearings on several heated issues this past week. It’s common for committee chairs to schedule bills that may be more contentious for a later hearing because it is less likely they will be voted out of committee and reach the floor. Here’s a quick rundown of hearings that took place:
- On Tuesday, the Government Committee heard LB158 (Sen. Wayne) and LR10CA (Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh), a bill and a proposed constitutional amendment that would restore full voting rights to Nebraskans with felony convictions. Currently, those with felonies must wait two years after their sentence ends before being able to vote and many are unaware when rights are restored. No one testified in opposition, an early indicator it might have a chance this year (Gov. Ricketts vetoed a similar bill in 2017).
- On Wednesday, the Government Committee heard bills regarding firearms. LB188 from Sen. Halloran would prohibit local law enforcement from enforcing any federal gun laws that don’t exist at the state level. LB236 from Sen. Brewer would allow counties to authorize concealed carry of guns without permits. Guns rights advocates packed the hearing and also sent in hundreds of comments through the new online portal. It is unlikely, however, that either bill would have an effect even if passed because they both depend on actions of local or federal governments.
- On Friday, the Judiciary Committee heard several bills that would address discrimination experienced by queer Nebraskans. Sen. Hunt introduced the three bills that drew the most testifiers: (LB120 would prohibit workplace discrimination, LB230 would prohibit discrimination in public accommodations and housing, and LB231 would outlaw conversion therapy). While there were several advocacy organizations that came out to support these bills, the usual religious and “family” groups testified opposed to all three.
Senators wary of some governor appointees
One of the duties of committees in addition to holding bill hearings is to hold hearings on potential appointees the governor has picked for various boards and commissions. These confirmations usually move through committee with little notice, but sometimes more controversial appointees will be challenged by committee members and – even more rare – the committee will recommend against confirming a governor’s appointee.
For example, this past week, the Health and Human Services Committee held appointment hearings on people nominated for the State Board of Health and positions in the Department of Health and Human Services. Some senators expressed criticism of many of the appointees, especially because some of the choices seemed overtly political. Senators also took the time Thursday to question appointees to DHHS about the state’s delay to expand Medicaid coverage to low-income Nebraskans. It is likely, however, that the appointments will eventually be confirmed by the full legislature later this session.
Committees take rare step of killing bills early
Some senators used floor debate this week to express their frustration with some committees. The Revenue, Natural Resources, and Transportation committees have all taken the rare step of proactively taking votes to kill bills in committee. Usually, bills that fail to advance will just sit in committee until the end of the two-year biennium.
On Tuesday morning, Sen. Wayne took the opportunity during floor debate to confront Sen. Flood, who had made motions to indefinitely postpone (also called to “IPP”) bills during a Revenue Committee executive session last week. Some senators believe other senators are using this unusual and confrontational move to prevent bills from being amended onto other bills later in the session. This dust up could be a sign of things to come as we get to the more heated parts of the legislative session.
Priority designation deadline looming
With hearings wrapping up and the priority designation deadline approaching, the Capitol is starting to buzz with rumors of what bills will get a coveted priority designation. Four senators have already chosen their priority bill, which you can view on the legislative website. It is also common this time of year to begin to negotiate what bills can be amended into each other to form various committee packages. Stay tuned next week as senators make these decisions, which will have a huge impact on what policies get passed into law by the end of session.
Until next week!
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall