Inside the Rotunda 2021: Week 9

Public Hearings Wrap-Up, Installment Bill Advances, and Priority Bill Selections

Senators were relieved to wrap up most of their committee hearings this week (the Judiciary Committee lags behind and will finish this next week). As senators’ priority bill designations begin to roll in and committee chairs finalize their committee packages, the rest of the session is beginning to take shape.

Committees wrap up all-day hearings

Committees tackled several key issues in the last full week of hearings. Here’s a quick sampling of bills of interest:

  • On Monday morning, the Business and Labor Committee heard bills that would improve the unemployment and workers’ compensation systems, including Sen. Matt Hansen’s LB441, which would make it easier to claim workers’ compensation if workers contract COVID-19 at work.
  • Also Monday morning in the Business and Labor Committee, Sen. McKinney introduced LB480, which would incrementally increase the minimum wage until it hits $20 per hour in 2032.
  • On Monday afternoon, Sen. Vargas introduced LB241 to the Business and Labor Committee. This bill would finally implement needed workplace protections for the state’s meatpacking workers as they face COVID-19.
  • On Wednesday, the Government Committee heard bills to establish new state holidays. LB349 from Sen. McKinney would create Malcolm X Day. LB29 from Sen. Wayne would replace Arbor Day with Juneteenth Day. LB577 from Sen. Bostar would establish Election Day as a state holiday and make it easier to vote by mail and vote early.
  • On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee had a second full day of bills on gun legislation. Most controversial was Sen. Slama’s LB300, which would provide that those who use deadly force would be presumed innocent if they were acting to defend themselves or others.
  • On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee heard Sen. John Cavanaugh’s LB636, which would eliminate the cash bail system.

As hearings end, it is now up to committees to either vote to advance bills or let them sit for the year. Most committees also get to designate two priority bills and often amend several related bills together to get as many bills across the finish line as possible. Look for committees to finalize and advance those packages this upcoming week as priority designations come due.

Installment loan bill advances despite concerns

During floor debate on Tuesday morning, some senators expressed opposition to Sen. Lindstrom’s LB510, which would increase the interest rate allowed for installment loans from 24 to 29 percent. Sen. Lindstrom has tried in the past to pass a similar bill but was unable to overcome a filibuster from Sen. Ernie Chambers. After extended debate – including a failed motion from Sen. Wayne to recommit the bill back to the Banking Committee – senators voted to advance the bill with the agreement that Sen. Lindstrom would work with those in opposition to make needed changes before the bill comes up for the second round of debate.

Gubernatorial appointments drama continues

One of the other duties of committees this time of year is to hold hearings and advance committee reports on various appointments made by the governor. Recently, the Natural Resources Committee advanced a rare committee report that was not unanimous. Three members of that committee (Wayne, John Cavanaugh, and Hughes) voted against approving appointments to the Environmental Trust Board, which has faced criticism for approving grants that go against the intended mission of the trust.

These “no” votes on these appointees foreshadow a potential combative floor debate when they come up on the agenda, where senators will almost certainly take the opportunity to dredge up concerns, they have of the Environmental Trust Board.

Senators scramble to decide priority bills

This upcoming week marks the deadline for senators and committees to designate their priority bills. A priority designation guarantees that Speaker Hilgers will schedule the bill for debate on the floor. You can find a full list of priority bills on the legislative website.

Six senators and three committees (Education, General Affairs, and Retirement) have already named their priority bills. Most senators, however, wait until the deadline to negotiate various amendments, to wait and make sure the bill is voted out of committee, and to see what urgent issues are at risk of being left out.

Watch this week as the Judiciary Committee holds their last hearings while everyone else has a chance to catch their breath before all-day debate begins March 16.

Until next week!

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