Legislative Roundup, Week 8

Setting Priorities

Every week is important during the legislative session, but this week may be the most determinative one as senators and committees are hitting crunch time to make important decisions about what bills get priority status.

Some of you may have seen the classic “Schoolhouse Rocks” video on how a bill becomes a law in the U.S. In Nebraska, the fundamental process is the same, but there are several procedural determinations that dictate a bill’s chances of even making it to the full body for consideration on the floor. Following are a few of the potential “process hurdles.”

  1. Scheduling: Each session, the speaker can designate up to 25 priority bills, standing committees can select two priority bills and each senator can select one priority bill. Priority designation doesn’t assure consideration on the floor, but it makes it more likely, unless the clock runs out (see # 3). One of the most important powers a committee chair has is the discretion to decide when a bill is scheduled for hearing. Bills scheduled after the deadline for the speaker’s priority designation (March 7), committee and personal priority designations (March 9) have less of a chance of making it to the floor because senators are partial to giving priority designation to bills that have already been advanced out of committee.
  2. Finding a Home: After a bill advances out of committee, senators and committees must weigh how to get bills out on the floor, a process some call “finding a home” for a bill. Committees often package bills together when they cover the same subject matter. Senators make strategic decisions with their personal priorities and speaker priorities based on what they think the speaker might be likely to choose for priority designation (everyone wants a speaker priority, but there are only 25). Some senators seek to find a home for their bills with other senators who may not have their own priorities. Many bills that made it out of committee unanimously – and are noncontroversial in nature – can be placed on the “consent calendar,” which is a rapid-fire floor schedule to speed up the process of passing bills that are more technical adjustments to law.
  3. The Clock: Timing will run out for hearing all bills advanced by committees. Sometimes, even bills with priority designation don’t make it to floor debate before the “timer” expires.

See a term above that isn’t quite clear to you? Click on this glossary of terms page to find out more.

Budget and Taxes

The Governor’s tax plan, LB337 (Smith), is getting push back from a large and politically diverse array of organizations, including the Nebraska Farm Bureau, the Nebraska Cattlemen, the Nebraska Farmers Union and the Nebraska State Education Association. They are part of a 16-organization coalition called Nebraska United for Property Tax Reform and Education. According to the Omaha World Herald:

“Leaders said the new coalition represents an expansion of efforts to reduce the state’s reliance on property taxes, while providing adequate and sustainable education funding.

Nebraska coalition aims for property tax reform.”

Hearings Watch 

Today: The Business and Labor Committee will hear testimony on LB211 (Hansen), which increases the tipped minimum wage from the current $2.13 per hour, to an indexed rate of the standard minimum wage. This would be 40% ($3.60) of the current $9 minimum wage starting on August 1, 2017 and 50% ($4.50), starting on January 1, 2018.

The Business and Labor Committee will also hear testimony on LB244 (Bolz), which makes employees of state institutions, where regular interaction with high risk and dangerous individuals is a core function, eligible for workers compensation for mental health injuries that arise from their employment. Such a provision currently is authorized for first responders.

Wednesday: Hearings will take place in the morning due to Statehood Day activities as part of our sesquicentennial.

Thursday: The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee will hear testimony on LR1CA (Murante), which would require that voters provide government-issued photographic identification before voting. For more information on how to fight this, visit this Nebraskans for Civic Reform page.

Also Thursday, the Health and Human Services Committee will hear testimony on LB537 (Hughes), which requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a new program to drug test those receiving cash assistance if they believe the recipient is using a controlled substance.

In addition, the Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on LB505 (Brewer), which would require refugee resettlement agencies in Nebraska to submit a semi-annual report to the state with information about the refugees they serve, including nations of origin. This bill is not only harmful to refugees, but also unnecessary due to the rigorous vetting process that takes place before these refugees arrive in Nebraska.

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

Important bills in the news

Don Walton had a great story this weekend in the Lincoln Journal Star about the vulnerability of Nebraska’s Latino Community and how Senator Vargas is working to protect the community.

The Omaha World Herald ran a great story last week on the issue of human trafficking and Senator Pansing Brooks’ bill to increase penalties on traffickers (LB289).

Another story by Emily Nohr at the Omaha World Herald, highlighted last week’s hearing on LB173 (Morfeld), which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Omaha World Herald also has a write-up on the hearing on LB194 (Vargas), which would reform payday lending interest rates in Nebraska.

“That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you will also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. I am a man.” 

– Chief Standing Bear