Inside the Rotunda, Week 7

In legislative parlance, the term “friendly amendment” is often used as a way to describe an amendment to a bill that is perceived by all parties as an enhancement to the original motion, or as a clarification of intent. The phrase found its way into the debate on LB224 (Albrecht) last week as the bill, which dealt with tax exempt bonds for private cultural institutions, had a nondiscrimination provision that did not include sexual orientation and gender identity. Senator Megan Hunt brought what she described as a friendly amendment to add sexual orientation to the bill, but Senator Albrecht did not consider it friendly. Senator Matt Williams negotiated a compromise by having the delineated classes (race, color, creed, national origin, ancestry, age, gender, disability) removed so that it would just refer to “state or federal” nondiscrimination laws. 

The short-lived but lively battle served as a precursor to a larger debate that appears headed to the floor as early as this week. The Judiciary Committee last week advanced LB627 (Pansing Brooks) to General File, which is the first of three rounds of floor debate. This bill prohibits employment discrimination on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Setting Priorities

The Legislature’s agenda for the rest of session will get clearer soon as priority bill designations will start to come into focus. With more than 740 introduced bills and constitutional amendments, senators and committees will have to make strategic decisions about what bills they really want to try and get to get to the finish line this session. Standing committees can (generally) designate two bills as priorities, senators get to designate one bill as a priority, and the speaker gets to designate up to 25 bills as priorities. The list of priority bills will be updated as they are designated. Senator Anna Wishart has already designated LB110, the Medical Cannabis Act, as her priority and Senator Mark Kolterman has selected LB720, establishing a new system of business tax incentives known as “The ImagiNE Nebraska Act,” as his priority. March 14 is the deadline for speaker priorities and March 19 is the deadline for committee and senator priorities. One of the practical effects of priority designations is that the bills currently coming out of committee that are getting to the floor quickly will start to take a backseat to the priority bills. 

Budget and Taxes

The fight over Title X funding in the Nebraska budget took an important turn last week as the Appropriations Committee voted narrowly to remove a controversial provision in the Governor’s budget proposal to restrict funding for Title X clinics that provide preventative health care services to women and rural Nebraskans. Because Planned Parenthood clinics offer these services, along with family planning, it injects an ideological fight about abortion into the state budget debate.

That provision led to hours of debate last year and a rare filibuster of one of the budget bills. Many senators were not interested in reliving that experience this year and have argued that provisions of that nature should go into a regular bill and not be part of the budget. 

Maybe the legislature will spend more time talking about funding for programs as part of this year’s budget? Something tells me we haven’t heard the last of the Title X fight, however. Time will tell. 

The Revenue Committee also had a busy week of hearings on the tax front last week. Here are some interesting takeaways from Paul Hammel at the Omaha World Herald

Right around the Corner?

I told you I didn’t trust the groundhog. The repeated snows are starting to feel like…well, Groundhog Day! 

Until Next Week,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall