Legislative Roundup, Week 7

Cease Fire

The Nebraska Legislature agreed to a temporary truce last week in the continuing battle over adoption of permanent rules. Under the agreement, the Legislature will work under temporary rules until March 20.. At that time, the battle will resume. The hope is that Senators will spend time between now and then working on some of the noncontroversial, or less controversial, issues that have made it to General File (the first round of floor debate). Freshmen Senators, in particular, will be able to see that most of the bills passed through the Legislature carry broad, bipartisan support. Today’s agenda includes many such bills.

The ongoing battle, coupled with an unusual period without recess days, has had an exhausting impact at the Capitol. As Don Walton noted in his latest Lincoln Journal Star column:

“It’s been a tough slog through day after day of warfare over minority filibuster protections; that clash has eaten up one-third of this session and taken a toll on trust and camaraderie.” 

Conservative Senator Mike Groene appeared exasperated and ready to move on last week, even appearing to chastise his fellow conservatives for their overreach on the proposed change to the filibuster rule:

“There is nothing wrong with our filibuster rules, Groene declared. “We won the leadership battle. Let’s not turn around and kick them now.”

Hearings Watch – A Big Week Ahead!

Today: The Appropriations Committee will hear testimony on the Governor’s budget bills, including LB327 (Scheer), the mainline Appropriation bill.  The University of Nebraska is one area being hit hard by the proposed cuts. The Appropriations Committee is already lessening the blow.

The Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee will also hear testimony on LB194 (Vargas) which would address the problems associated with payday lending. Payday loan models commonly used in Nebraska traps borrowers in a cycle of debt, creating longer-term financial problems for low-income people. This bill tackles the payday lending industry’s core problem, which is short-term length of loan, lump-sum repayment, high costs and unaffordability. During last week’s lunch and learn, sponsored by the Coalition for a Strong Nebraska, we learned there are more payday lending locations in Nebraska than there are McDonalds. Colorado has already implemented payday lending reform that has kept payday lenders open while reducing the predatory aspects of these businesses. The Pew Charitable Trust has singled out Colorado as a model for the nation on payday lending reform. Nebraska is attempting to follow in Colorado’s footsteps.

Wednesday: The Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on LB173 (Morfeld), which prohibits discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This bill made it out of Committee last year, but was defeated on the floor. A rally and news conference will take place today ahead of tomorrow’s hearing.

The Judiciary Committee will also hear testimony on LB165 (Brewer), which requires all companies to use the e-verify system to check the immigration status of all employees. Currently, only state and local governments and government contractors are required to use the system. As the Heartland Workers Center says, the bill could adversely affect immigrants.

Thursday: The Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on LB289 (Pansing Brooks), which increases felony classifications, and therefore penalties, for individuals convicted of human trafficking. This includes convictions for trafficking a minor and trafficking a minor or adult with the use or threat of force. Human trafficking is a significant problem in Nebraska as a report on the Commercial Sex Market, released last week by from the Women’s Fund of Omaha, shows. Every month, 900 individuals are sold for sex, often multiple times, in Nebraska.

There will also be a number of important bills related to domestic violence in the Judiciary Committee Thursday.

Also on Thursday, the Health and Human Services Committee will hear testimony on LB179 (Bolz), which makes a young person who is in court-ordered out of home care, eligible for the Bridge to Independence Program. This would help youth leaving juvenile probation by allowing them to receive the care provided by the Bridges program, which currently helps kids transitioning out of foster care to adulthood.

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

The “Do-Nothing” Legislature?

A common refrain heard during the Legislature’s repeated “Groundhog Day” madness over rules was that the Unicameral wasn’t doing anything. Many Senators, staff (and dare we say, lobbyists) would take strong exception to that refrain as bills have had rigorous hearings and legislation has moved out to General File (the first stage at which a bill is considered by the full Legislature) – just like years past. To see the status of your favorite bills – or least favorite (let’s face it, we have some bad ones to fight), check out this page.

 “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

-Franklin Delano Roosevelt