Inside the Rotunda – Week 20

A flurry of activity unfolded last week as Senators tackled the last substantive week of this year’s session in a final series of late nights. 

Meatpacking Protections bill killed in 2nd round upset

In a surprise upset, opponents led by Senator John Lowe filed a motion to bracket LB 241 (Vargas) and prevailed.  This leaves the bill dead for the year.  Meatpacking plants are already taking the necessary cautions to protect workers from COVID, opponents said, and with the pandemic on a downward curve, these requirements would have been too difficult and costly to implement.  Vargas and supporters expressed frustration at the move to kill the bill on the 2nd round, saying the protections were still very necessary.  25 senators voted to kill the bill.

Unemployment for Dreamers advances

LB 298, Senator Mike McDonnell’s priority bill, barely advanced to Select File with 26 votes.  It would allow work-authorized immigrants, including TPS and DACA recipients, to be eligible for unemployment benefits.  The group is currently barred from eligibility, and Nebraska is the only state that maintains this restriction.  With the Legislature wrapping up its business this week, it looks like this bill won’t pass this year.  It will, however, likely come up in the earlier part of next year’s session. 

“Zombie” Student Restraint Bill resurfaces

Senator Dave Murman tried once again to amend his bill allowing teachers to restrain and remove unruly students from the classroom, following a series of lengthy debates each of which ended in its defeat.  An amendment containing a retooled version of the highly contentious proposal was placed on Senator Walz’ LB 529 in what some called a compromise.  However, opponents who have vocally stood against the measure in principle in several previous iterations continued to stand strong against this new attempt – at the expense of LB 529, a bill that would allocate state lottery funds to behavioral awareness and intervention training.  Opponents filibustered the amendment and thus killed LB 529 on cloture. 

However, a popular provision of LB 529 which included the use of lottery funds for need-based scholarships and other educational programs, managed to stay afloat after it was amended onto another bill, LB 528.

SNAP Cliff Effect Bill passes

LB 108, Senator John McCollister’s priority bill, would reduce the “cliff effect” in SNAP benefits whereby families face losing their food assistance when a small pay raise could bump them over the current income eligibility limit for the program.  A “sunset date” was amended onto the bill, meaning that it will terminate in 2023 and the income limits will revert back to the previous level.  There are indications that this is a strong contender for a gubernatorial veto.  To overcome a veto, the measure will need 30 votes. It passed “safely” with 33 votes, however, it’s not unheard of for a measure to lose votes it once had at the veto override stage.   

Supplemental Children’s Developmental Disability Services filibustered

More political gamesmanship resulted in the taking down of Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh’s LB 376, a bill that would have required DHHS to start a family support program for developmental disability services via a 3-year Medicaid waiver they’d have to apply for.  The program would have provided up to $10,000 in supplemental services for up to 850 families on the notoriously long wait list for children’s developmental disability services.  It would have also expanded Medicaid eligibility for children with disabilities by disregarding their parents’ income. 

Senator Julie Slama led a successful filibuster against the bill, saying that the state could not afford it, and that it might just create a second wait list – though, many observers and other Senators have noted on and off the floor that this was likely motivated more by personal beef between Senators than sound policy arguments.  The cloture motion failed with 30 votes, causing Senator Cavanaugh and allies to hold up debate on many bills brought by those who voted to kill her bill in retaliation.

Child Care Subsidy Eligibility Expansion overcomes filibuster

Senator Wendy DeBoer’s LB 485, which would raise the income eligibility limit for the child care subsidy program from 130% up to 185% of the federal poverty level, faced an unexpected, perhaps retaliatory, filibuster led by Senator Lou Ann Linehan.  She and others expressed frustration at the defeat of several conservative priority measures around tax reform in recent weeks.  The filibuster effort led to the emergency clause on the bill being defeated, though the underlying bill still passed safely with 31 votes.  The emergency clause would have required the bill to go into effect immediately upon signing.  It will now take the standard effective date, which is three months following signing.

Other Bills Advanced

A selection of notable bills that passed final reading:

LB 271 (Morfeld) allowing people awaiting trial for a DUI to enroll in an alternative diversion program

LB 247 (Pansing Brooks) creating a task force to study the implementation of a crisis hotline

LB 322 (Williams) creating a statewide school safety reporting program

LB 527 (Walz) providing transition services to students with disabilities two years earlier

LB 387 ( Brewer) exempts military retirement pay from state income tax

LB 255 (M. Hansen) provides compensation to families of first responders killed in the line of duty

LB 639 (Day) requires schools to create plans for students with seizure disorders

LB 2 (Briese) reduces ag land valuation for school bonding

LB 260 (Hunt) allows workers who have to leave a job to care for a seriously ill family member to be eligible for unemployment benefits

LB 51 (Lathrop) increased certification and training standards for law enforcement

LB 64 (Lindstrom) phaseout of Social Security income tax

-LB 307 [l1] (Pansing Brooks) requires legal representation for juveniles facing serious criminal charges

LB 452 (McKinney) requires schools to teach financial literacy

LB 306 (Brandt) expands eligibility for home energy assistance (LIHEAP)

-A hearing was held on 3 resolutions introduced by Senator Hunt in response to Senator Groene’s hyper partisan LR 107.  Supporters and opponents both showed up over a lunch hour.  This Fly is hearing that Hunt’s efforts may have had the desired effect by preventing LR 107 from advancing.

-Senators had the final opportunity to introduce interim study resolutions, which will lead to in-depth research of issues for potential bill ideas over the summer and fall. 

What’s Next

I’ll have one more post for you following adjournment at the end of this week, then, this Fly is going on hiatus until we return to the Unicameral in September for a special session on redistricting (more on that next week!).  Thursday is set to be the final day, and any veto override votes and final business is supposed to finish up on Wednesday.  Monday and Tuesday are recess days.  Those bills remaining on General and Select File will likely get a chance to come up early in the session next year in the first weeks before new bills work their way out of committees and onto the floor. 

Until next week,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall