Inside the Rotunda, Week 4

Sometimes there is Crying in Legislating

With the Legislature’s quick adoption of permanent rules and all of this session’s bills having been introduced, most of the interesting events last week took place in the Capitol hearing rooms. 

Senators and staff on the Judiciary Committee are already putting in late hours. Hearings lasted well into the evening Friday on LB110 (Wishart), which establishes access to cannabis for medical purposes.  A large crowd of supporters and a smaller crowd of opponents showed up to testify on whether Nebraska should join the 33 other states that have medical marijuana. It was an emotional hearing, with personal testimony bringing senators and others to tears. As someone on the inside, I can tell you that presentation of research and data is very important at hearings, but it is often the personal stories that move people to action. 

Technical Malfunctions

Speaking of Judiciary, some may have noticed a change of venue for this committee’s hearings. Because of the Capitol’s HVAC project, the Warner Chamber is now being used for Judiciary hearings this session. The Warner Chamber, designed for the Nebraska State Senate in the days before Nebraska moved to a unicameral system, is usually used for ceremonial events now. So, it has taken some adjustments to set things up for hearing purposes, and the process hasn’t been without some minor technical issues. 

One of the responsibilities of the Committee Clerk is to turn off the livestream and microphones during breaks so as not to catch “off the record” remarks from senators and staff. However, the system had issues Friday and the clerk was unable to turn off the livestream and microphones, resulting in a panic among certain legislative staff in the offices downstairs. I know of at least a few that were frantically texting their bosses to warn them about the live microphones. A few years back, I remember one occasion where a clerk didn’t get the microphones off fast enough and everyone was able to hear that a certain senator, in no uncertain terms, REALLY needed to use the restroom! 

Fiscal Notes

With budget times still being rather lean, as a number of senators want to replenish the rainy day fund, restore previous cuts and invest in high priorities, fiscal notes are an especially dreaded challenge to senators, staff and advocates.  A fiscal note places a price tag on each bill prior to its public hearing, sometimes rendering the bill “dead on arrival” if there is a cost or if the cost is more than minimal. The Legislative Fiscal Office determines the estimated cost of a bill through research and input from relevant government agencies. When the Fiscal Office determines a bill will likely have an expenditure impact on the state, the fiscal note becomes the basis for the “A” bills, which are companion bills to the substantive legislation. Fiscal notes are an important part of the legislative process and senators and staff seek to minimize their impact on a bill’s chances of success. 

Until Next Week,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall