Legislative Roundup, Week 19

Early Sine Die

In a surprising announcement last week, Speaker Scheer said the legislative session will adjourn Sine Die May 23, rather than June 2 as scheduled. All priority bills will make it to the floor for debate before the Legislature adjourns.

Budget Veto and Revenue Forecast

The Legislature advanced its budget on Final Read last week, but only after some of the body’s most conservative members came close to forcing a government shutdown. The bill needed 33 votes on Final Reading because an emergency clause was necessary to avoid a gap between budget cycles. The Legislature is on watch for vetoes from the Governor. He has already vetoed one item that appropriated $11 million for a new heating and air conditioning system in the Capitol. The Governor says sufficient funding is available to keep the project on schedule. The Lincoln Journal Star reports that the Governor is ready to “slash” the budget, so expect big battles this week.

Revenue numbers continue to come in below projections with April showing a $55.5 million shortfall. But Appropriations Committee members say this poses no immediate problems with the budget package the Legislature just passed.

Reading Proficiency

The Legislature spent three hours of debate on LB651 (Linehan), but did not advance the bill. LB651, which requires a student be held back if they do not demonstrate reading proficiency by the third grade, is opposed by Stand for Schools and other major education groups. Studies show holding kids back is counterproductive. Senator Pansing Brooks argued on the floor against the bill and said the path forward is to improve interventions and teacher training to help students who fall behind. She introduced LR222 last week, which she says will help the Legislature move forward on policies to improve reading proficiency outcomes for kids. Senator Linehan tells the Lincoln Journal Star that she thinks she is close to getting the votes to move LB651 this session, so advocates should remain vigilant.

Voting Rights

The Legislature failed last week to override a veto of LB75 (Wayne), a bill to eliminate the two-year waiting period for felons to have their voting rights restored upon completion of their sentence. Nebraskans for Civic Reform worked for passage of LB75. The Omaha World Herald had good coverage of the floor debate on the veto override, as Senator Wayne pointed out the history of felon voting disenfranchisement and its entrenchment with post Civil-War politics as people sought to deny newly freed slaves the right to vote:

“A vote against this override is a vote in favor of a past that is based and founded in racism, exclusion and fear,” he said, promising to reintroduce the bill next session.

The Legislature did not advance LR1CA (Murante), which would have put voter ID on the ballot. Senator Murante has vowed to resurrect the bill. Nebraskans for Civic Reform fought the advancement of this proposal.

This Week

Today’s agenda includes LR26 (Vargas), which would put the Legislature on record opposing federal actions to rescind protections for DACA youth. As Don Walton at the Lincoln Journal Star explains:

“Those young people who were brought to the United States as children when their Latino parents entered the country illegally are granted legal presence under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive action taken by former President Barack Obama in 2012.”

The Legislature will also debate LR27 (Bolz), which would put the Legislature on record supporting refugees regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, age or sex. Nebraska Appleseed has been working for passage of both LR27 and LR27.

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

Interim Studies

Wednesday was the deadline for senators to introduce interim studies, which often serve as catalysts for future legislation. Two competing studies will involve examination of the distribution of Title X funding for Women’s Health – LR131 (Riepe) and LR241 (Vargas). These studies follow the unsuccessful effort this session to cut Title X funding for women’s health clinics in our state. Advocates will want to keep an eye on these studies as they may have implications for legislation next year. The Women’s Fund of Omaha, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and ACLU of Nebraska have been active in fighting for the protection of Title X funding.

For those interested in these studies, this page includes the entire list.

 “We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”

-Alan Turing   

The Capitol Fly on the Wall

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