Inside the Rotunda, Week 11

An Exhausting Week

The Nebraska Legislature had its first late night of the session last week as Senators battled over the budget. Debate lasted six hours and was devoted almost entirely to the issue of Title X funding for women’s health clinics that provide preventative health care services to women and rural Nebraskans. The mainline budget bill, LB944, says “no funds disbursed under the Federal Title X Program are to be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning” and that none of the funds shall be granted to an organizations that “performs, assists with the performance of, provides directive counseling in favor of or refers for abortion.” After a strong effort from several Senators to remove the Title X funding restrictions from the budget, the Legislature eventually ended debate and the budget was advanced to Select File with the restrictions intact.

University officials were in the Rotunda for much of the first round of budget debate, waiting for attempts by Senator Steve Erdman and others to increase the cut to the University from the 1% cut advanced by the Appropriations Committee. So, the Title X dominance in floor debate had the residual effect of allowing the budget to get to Select File with the University further unscathed. The budget will be up for debate again Wednesday with cuts to the University of Nebraska expected to consume an ample amount of floor time this go around.

Another highlight of the week was a successful filibuster of LB158 (Pansing Brooks), which would have ensured appointment of counsel for juvenile offenders. The bill fell two votes short of cloture with 31 senators voting to end debate. It was a disappointing result for Senator Pansing Brooks who has worked hard to ensure a child receives their constitutional access to counsel.

The busy week produced crankiness from some senators in the body. Senator Roy Baker made a motion to adjourn Wednesday after the budget debate, but Speaker Jim Scheer wanted members to stay around to get more legislative business finished. Hours consumed on the floor can test a person’s patience. That’s why senators and staff were excited to take part in the annual St. Patrick’s Day event sponsored by the lobby. It was an occasion for everyone from all political stripes to forget their troubles and socialize. From what your Capitol Fly on the Wall observed, even some of the more conservative Capitol insiders consumed liberally.

Staff on the Floor

Those watching NET live streaming of floor debate will often see legislative staffers in the background. One former staff member once dubbed these sightings as “unicameos.” Staffers will sometimes set up shop underneath the balconies in order to assist their senators with bills that are up on the floor and conduct impromptu research. Staff are allowed on the floor, except during Final Reading. Only Senators, the Clerk’s Office staff and legislative pages are allowed on the floor during Final Reading. One of the Sergeant at Arms (often referred to as redcoats because…well, they wear red coats) is prepared to tackle any staffer who forgets the rules and wanders in – and no staffer wants to be on the receiving end of the dreaded glare from the Clerk of the Legislature.

Until next time,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall