The Power of the Purse
Last week served as a preview of the future budget battle for the biennium budget as the state grapples with a $900 million revenue shortfall.
State Senators expressed their grievances last week over the Governor’s deficit budget cuts (cuts he wants to make to the current year budget that was already approved), before ultimately advancing them to Select File (the second round of debate before Final Reading). Senator Bob Krist and others criticized the Governor for withholding appropriations to state agencies. Others also criticized the Governor for not calling the Legislature into a special session to address the deficit cuts.
The Nebraska Constitution gives the Legislature the “power of the purse.” The Legislature was able to make significant changes to the Governor’s proposals, including protection of funds to support people with developmental disabilities and funds to reduce prison overcrowding.
As ACLU Executive Director Danielle Conrad often says, the budget is a moral document. Advocates must prepare to defend priorities and ensure the budget isn’t balanced too heavily on low-income people and children. If ever there was a week to make your voice heard in the Capitol, this is the week as the Revenue Committee is holding hearings on the Governor’s tax cut bills on Wednesday.
Rules Fight Continues
The Legislature continues operating under temporary rules (the rules that were in place last session), but the battle over permanent rules for this session remain unresolved. As Don Walton recently wrote in his Lincoln Journal Star column:
“Any proposed adjustment in filibuster rules would be aimed at tipping the balance more against the legislative minority, making it more difficult for those senators to sustain a filibuster and prevent some legislation from moving ahead or being enacted.”
This exchange on the floor, recounted by NET Nebraska last week, seems to illustrate the entrenched lines in the sand:
Sen. Matt Hansen, a Democrat who was offering his own rules change, explicitly asked conservative Republican Sen. Tyson Larson, who’s promoting the rules change to make it harder to filibuster, if Larson would agree to drop his proposal. “Do you plan on withdrawing any of your proposed rules changes?” Hansen asked.
“No,” replied Larson.
“If I made you the offer that I would withdraw my proposed rules changes if you agreed to withdraw yours, would you take it?” Hansen asked.
“No,” Larson repeated.
The motion to adopt permanent rules is on the agenda again today. It is worth noting that the Legislature can operate under the temporary rules for the entire session if permanent rules are not adopted.
Today: The Business and Labor Committee will hear testimony on LB305 (Crawford), which creates a paid family leave insurance program to provide income replacement for eligible workers to care for themselves or a family member following a serious illness to care for a new family member through birth, foster care or adoption. The Business and Labor Committee will also hear testimony on LB372 (Crawford), which creates protections for caregivers by adding family care responsibilities as a protected class under the Nebraska Fair employment Practice Act.
Also today, the Executive Board will hear testimony on LB646 (Pansing Brooks), which creates a task force to develop a climate change action plan, as recommended in December by the recent LR455 Interim Study Report. NET Radio ran a great story on climate change last week.
Tuesday: The Agriculture Committee will hear testimony on LB260 (Hansen), which establishes a state food insecurity nutrition incentive grant program.
Also Tuesday, the Education Committee will hear testimony on LB645 (Pansing Brooks), which adds a definition of dyslexia to statute. The reason this is important is that, while dyslexia is mentioned in statute, it is not defined as a specific learning disability. Defining dyslexia in statute will clear common misconceptions about the learning disability and set up the state to more seriously address dyslexia through assessments and interventions.
Wednesday: This will be a big day in Revenue as the Committee will hear testimony on LB337 (Smith) and LB338 (Brasch). These are the Governor’s tax cut bills. These bills pose a serious threat to the things we all care about. As the Journal Star reports, the proposed income tax cuts would not benefit lower-income Nebraskans.
Thursday: The Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on LB122 (Pansing Brooks), which would allow family members to petition courts for visitation rights when they are denied access by a caregiver. The Judiciary Committee will also hear testimony on LB104 (Bolz), which authorizes the use of surrogates to be designated by an adult or an emancipated minor to assist and make health care decisions when an individual is incapacitated when no guardian has been appointed.
Status on Bills Already Heard in Committee
The Omaha World Herald ran an editorial about the dangers of Senator Ebke’s LR6, the Convention of States legislation, heard last week. Advocates believe they have the votes to stop this bill in committee.
Late last week, the Judiciary Committee unanimously advanced LB158 (Pansing Brooks) to General File (first of three rounds of debate on the Senate Floor). This bill establishes that counsel shall be appointed to juveniles appearing in court. This bill is important to improve outcomes for kids and ensure they understand their rights when they appear in court.
Have questions about the Legislature, but don’t know where to look? Check out these Frequently Asked Questions on the Legislature’s Website.
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”