Oh, We’re Halfway There
The legislative session officially hit its halfway mark last week, priority bills are all set and hearings winds down this week. Just as the seasons change, so do the legislative periods, each bringing their own distinct characteristics. Soon all the legislative action will be in the George Norris Legislative Chamber.
What can we expect moving forward? Expect women’s health care issues to dominate a considerable amount of time in the second half of session, both as part of potential stand-alone legislation and as part of the budget. Arguments are also sure to ensue over tax policy. The Revenue Committee appears to be working on a tax package that would pay for property tax reductions with increases in sales and cigarette taxes. The Governor has stated that he opposes this approach. Progressives may not be happy either. Meanwhile, the prison population keeps hitting new highs. The Judiciary Committee is putting together a corrections package as part of one of its priority bills. It remains to be seen how bold the package may go and whether it will also include sentence reform to help get the prison population down to 140% of design capacity. It currently hovers around 160% of capacity.
An Institution Passes Away
One of the keys to making things run smoothly in the Legislature is the page program. Pages are college students who help senators with various tasks, including distribution of legislative documents. You will often see them on the floor or in legislative hearings. The page program provides a learning opportunity for young people while helping ensure senators receive important information and assistance. While many states have abandoned page programs, Nebraska has kept the tradition alive.
This program has run smoothly for decades because of the leadership of Kitty Kearns who has supervised the page program in the Legislature since the 1970s. Kitty passed away last week, leaving Capitol insiders in mourning. Kitty was one of those people that everyone who worked in the Legislature knew and interacted with. She was a beloved employee who helped shape the lives of many young people who were part of the page program.
Pulling Bills from Committee
Something to keep an eye on during the remainder of session are attempts by members of the Legislature to pull a bill from Committee and onto the floor. By the looks of things, it seems there could be a priority bill or two that may get stuck in Committee, but there may not be the votes in Committee to kill the bill. This leaves open a process whereby a member of the Body could move to pull the bill onto the floor and the bill would then be debated so long as it received 25 votes (a majority) for the pull motion. In reading some of the tea leaves on at least one bill, I would bet this is a likely tactic to be deployed. Just my speculation from the Wall!
Until Next Week.
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall