Legislative Roundup, Week 3

Hearings Watch, Budgets and Taxes, and Rules

While the period for bill introductions has ended and hearings are in full swing, partisan rumblings still hang in the balance over legislative rules. Although the Rules Committee previously rejected a change that would have required at least 17 senators to vote no to sustain a filibuster, there is still a possibility that the Legislature could make a change on the floor as early as today. As noted by Don Walton in his Journal Star column over the weekend, if the majority goes that direction, it “would be viewed by the legislative minority as piling on after an opening day in which they were steamrolled on a series of leadership votes.”

Medicaid Expansion

Senator Adam Morfeld has taken up the mantle on Medicaid Expansion, introducing LB441 last week to expand coverage to 90,000 more Nebraskans.

Hearings Watch

Monday: The Education Committee will hear testimony on LB235, (Walz), which allows Summer Food Program Service sponsors to expend the full amount provided when expanding or starting a child nutrition program under the Summer Food Service Program. This fixes a problem with Nebraska Department of Education regulations that prorate dollars, resulting in lower utilization of the grant fund.

Tuesday: The Education Committee will hear testimony on LB123 (Pansing Brooks), which establishes the Guaranty Recovery Cash Fund to allow students who suffer financial harm due to the closure or termination of a for-profit postsecondary educational institution, to make a claim against the fund for a refund of lost tuition and fees.  LB123 also protects students by requiring student records to be maintained and transferred when a school ceases operation, which will allow students to access their records.

Thursday: The Revenue Committee will hear testimony on LB65 (Hansen), which provides a $300 tax credit to help caregivers care for their loved ones. Qualified individuals must be above 200% of poverty and meet other guidelines.

Also Thursday, the Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on LB158 (Pansing Brooks) which requires juvenile courts to appoint counsel at the time the juvenile petition is filed and prior to the juvenile appearing before the court. Currently, a juvenile’s access to counsel has wide disparities, depending on location. To learn why this is important, check out this Voices for Children issue brief from last year.

Budget and Taxes

As noted by Open Sky Policy Institute, LB337, the Governor’s income tax cut plan, would do little for middle class Nebraskans. As Open Sky Executive Director Renee Fry points out: “While middle-class Nebraskans would see little to no tax savings, the wealthiest Nebraskans would see large tax reductions under the Governor’s proposal.”

From the Legislature’s Unicameral Update, Chief Justice Mike Heavican warned against cuts to community corrections last week in his annual address. “Heavican said the justice reinvestment program, passed into law by the Legislature in 2015 as LB605 would be eliminated under an $8.2 million budget cut suggested by Gov. Pete Ricketts. The program, meant to slow the rate of imprisonment and recidivism for short-term criminals by using probation, drug treatment and other measures, was developed and agreed to by the legislative, executive and judicial branches, he said.” Senators who recently served on the LR34 Special Investigative Committee on Corrections also sounded the alarm at an Appropriations hearing last week, pointing out the effects on prison overcrowding as outlined in their interim study report.

“To the wrongs that need resistance, to the right that needs assistance, to the future in the distance, give yourselves.

-Carrie Chapman Catt