Inside the Rotunda: Week 8

Emotions Run High Once Again

It was a relatively quiet week as committees finished up their last hearings and senators debated somewhat technical bills during morning floor debate. Drama, however, reared its head again on Friday as senators continued to discuss whether members of the public should be allowed to openly carry guns in the Capitol building. Emotions ran high as several senators went into detail about death threats they have received the past few weeks after introducing legislation seen by some as anti-gun. Sen. Chambers, long-known for being a controversial figure, responded dryly, “Welcome to the club.”

Sen. Hilgers, chairman of the Legislature’s Executive Board, assured senators he was working on a solution that would prioritize the safety of senators and staff. This fly has heard a rumor that some senators are thinking about using the rare tactic of suspending the rules so they can introduce legislation outside the normal January deadline that would ban open carry in the Capitol. Be prepared for more contentious debate on the floor if that happens.

Several Senators Working on Affordable Housing Legislation

On Monday, several senators, staff, and CSN members attended a lunch hosted by Laurie and Jo where senators presented various bills they introduced to address the lack of affordable housing across the state. Some bills, like Sen. Vargas’s LB1020 that would ban housing discrimination for those who use federal vouchers (Section 8), seem like they are dead for the year.

Others, though, still have a chance at moving forward this year. Sen. Quick discussed his LB424, which would allow cities to form land banks to address vacant and neglected properties. Land banks are entities formed by a city that can take over and repurpose problem properties back into habitable housing. This issue has been around for a while and last year would have passed if four senators in support would not have been absent when the vote was taken.

Senators debated LB424 Monday into Tuesday, with several senators voicing opposition because they see it as government overreach. Sen. Quick, however, is confident he has the votes to pass it, but, since it reached the three-hour time limit, must wait to have it rescheduled by the Speaker.

Sen. Matt Hansen and Trevor Fitzgerald, legal counsel for the Urban Affairs Committee, discussed a package of bills that the Urban Affairs Committee is working on. Included in the package will probably be both LB794 and LB866. Both would decrease burdensome zoning regulations to allow cities the chance to offer more affordable, multi-unit housing options to residents. These two bills are being combined and have been prioritized by the committee, so look for it to come up on the agenda for debate before session ends.

 Paying College Athletes Gets First-Round Approval

On Tuesday, Sen. Hunt’s LB962 passed the first of three rounds of debate on a 36-4 vote. This bill would allow college athletes the opportunity to make money off of their name, image, and likeness, a practice currently banned by NCAA regulations. Although this is a topic perhaps not directly related to the work of CSN members, I bring it up because it is a great example of how progressive senators are able to get legislation passed in a legislature that seems to become more partisan with each passing year.

Sen. Hunt was smart and chose a solution to the problem (exploitation of the free labor of college athletes) that could be framed around the conservative principles of the free market and deregulation. Then, early in the session, she gathered support from key senators, including former Husker players Sen. Stinner and Sen. Lindstrom. She then was diligent about talking to each senator one-on-one and addressing their concerns and, finally, asking for their support.

In an often-frustrating environment, it’s nice to see that progress can still be made when the timing (and strategy) is right! It seems likely the bill will pass this year, which is even more special considering it is Sen Chambers’s final year. He was one of the first to push paying college athletes back in the 1970’s before it became such a hot topic.

Bill to Require Voter ID Brings Out Opposition

 To wrap up the week, the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing Thursday on Sen. La Grone’s LR292CA, which would allow voters to decide on the November ballot if we should change the Nebraska Constitution to require ID to vote. Chairman Brewer must not have had much confidence in the bill since he scheduled it the very last day of public hearings after the deadline to designate priority bills (which is never a good sign for a bill).

Showing his commitment to the issue, however, was Secretary of State Bob Evnen, who, in a rare appearance before the committee, testified in support. He was immediately followed, though, by several testifiers in opposition, most of whom came across as well-informed, prepared, and courteous. It was the perfect example of how multiple organizations, many of them CSN members, have trained advocates and built-up infrastructure over several years to combat a bill introduced year after year. It is because of this work that we are able to stop the disenfranchisement of voters despite being in an otherwise right-leaning state!

That’s it for this week’s update. Senators are on a four-day break before returning Tuesday when all-day floor debate begins!

Until Next Week,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall

The Capitol Fly on the Wall

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