Legislative Round Up, Week 14

Battle Looms Over Taxes and Education Funding

The battle over taxes became a lot clearer last week as the Revenue Committee advanced LB461 (Smith), a package of income and property tax cuts that, as amended, would cost the state $458 million a year when fully implemented. The bill includes elements of LB337 (Smith) and LB338 (Brasch), the Governor’s tax plan proposals, as well as elements of LB452 (Lindstrom). Amended together in LB461, this creates a mega tax cut plan geared primarily toward wealthy Nebraskans.

The Open Sky Policy Institute says as much as 74% of the cuts would go to the state’s top 20 percent of income earners. Open-Sky Policy Institute Executive Director Renee Fry told the Lincoln Journal Star:

“This tax package is irresponsible policy. It does little to help the middle class but will force year over year cuts to higher education, K-12 schools, public safety and other vital services.”

The Revenue Committee previously advanced LB640 (Groene), which takes $224 million out of the Property Tax Credit Fund and sends it as state aid to school districts with the heaviest reliance on property taxes. As reported in the Omaha World Herald, this change would mostly benefit rural taxpayers, at the expense of urban taxpayers. Public school advocates are also strongly opposed to the lowering of the levy lid from $1.05 to $.987. This is especially concerning to advocates because of state aid cuts in LB409 (Groene). Stand for Schools is working to improve LB409 through amendments on the floor.

Speaker Scheer plans to start the LB640 debate on April 18, take up LB409 on April 19 and consider LB461 on April 21. CSN members concerned about these bills should plan to put all hands on deck starting now.

The Nebraska budget is due by April 24, so this is when the budget will hit the floor for debate, The Open Sky Policy Institute is planning budget briefings later this month in Omaha and Lincoln.

This Week

Today’s agenda includes LR6 (Ebke), which would open the door for a convention of states aimed at cutting government and limiting spending. University of Nebraska Law Professor Eric Berger had a column in the Omaha World Herald last month articulating the dangers of a convention of states. Berger says:

“Whatever flaws you may think our Constitution has, one of its redeeming qualities is its longevity. Ours is the oldest active Constitution in the world. This longevity is not merely a bragging point; it helps ensure stability, even in volatile times.”

Wednesday will be a big day on the juvenile justice front as LB158 (Pansing Brooks) will be up for debate. Voices for Children has worked hard on this bill as a leading advocate for juvenile justice in the state. Read this report from The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges to learn more about a juvenile’s right to counsel and what it means. Nebraska is not currently protecting a juvenile’s right to counsel because attorneys are not being appointed at the time of petition. This means kids come to court without an attorney and waive their right to an attorney without understanding what they are doing, which can result in strong consequences, like detention and out-of-home placement. Nebraska law currently provides for counsel at the time of petition for those 14 and under statewide and all juveniles in Sarpy, Douglas and Lancaster Counties. This creates a situation where kids 15-18 in more rural areas are not being treated equally, creating a “justice by geography” scenario.

Click here for a link to the NET live stream of floor debate.

LGBT Protections

The Nebraska Legislature failed to advance LB173 (Morfeld), which would protect LGBT Nebraskans from employment discrimination. Senator Bolz prioritized this legislation. After three hours of debate, no vote was taken Thursday. The bill won’t come back up unless supporters can show they have the 33 votes to break a filibuster. The Lincoln Journal Star, and Omaha World Herald covered the debate.

In spite of this setback, LGBT rights advocates’ spirits were lifted on Friday when the ACLU of Nebraska won a lawsuit against the state over its ban on LGBT foster parents. The Nebraska Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the ban was unconstitutional, calling the “heterosexuals only” policy the equivalent of “a sign reading “Whites Only’ on the hiring-office door.”

The decision garnered lots of state media and national media attention.

Prison Reform

As the weekend got underway, there was a staff assault and fire at the Lincoln Correctional Center, a Nebraska prison. The Lincoln Journal Star included the following in its coverage of the event.

“State leaders in recent years have sought to reform a prison system plagued by overcrowding, staff shortages and flaws in its sentence calculation system that three years ago led to hundreds of inmates being discharged too soon. A lack of programming also has led to many inmates who are eligible for parole remaining in prison, unable to complete necessary conditions.”

Whiteclay in the News

Of interest to some CSN members may be the hearing last week by the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission on re-licensing of the four liquor stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska, a town of 11 people near the Pine Ridge Reservation border which sells high-alcohol content beer to the dry Pine Ridge Reservation in neighboring South Dakota. The health consequences of these sales are significant; one in four babies on the Pine Ridge Reservation are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Holland Children’s Movement has advocated for LB407 (Pansing Brooks), to create the Whiteclay Public Health Emergency Task Force. This bill currently sits on Final Read (the final stage before a bill is sent to the Governor)

Fred Knapp at NET Radio has coverage of this hearing in his weekly report and also additional coverage on the LB173 debate.

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”

-Harvey Milk