Legislative Roundup, Week 9

Prison Riot

The big news at the end of last week was the prison riot at Tecumseh that resulted in the death of two inmates. While the Governor and Corrections officials downplayed the riot – and even insisted it wasn’t a riot – senators expressed frustration on the floor of the Legislature last Friday. In particular, senators who have worked on the special committees dealing with systemic problems at Corrections in recent years took exception with attempts to minimize the event, pointing to the recent warnings in the LR34 Report, addressing issues of overcrowding, understaffing, prison programming and underfunding and the 2014 LR424 Report, the special investigation conducted after the 2013 murders committed by a former inmate (Nikko Jenkins). Senators involved in those studies urged their colleagues to read the reports.

Joanne Young has a great recap in the Lincoln Journal Star about the Legislature’s frustrations with the Department of Corrections. Fred Knapp at NET Radio also has a great report. Meanwhile, a lawsuit from the ACLU is in the works. ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad says:

“People are dead. There were fires. This is the second time in less than two years. This is not normal in a correctional system.”

Priority Bills

Senators and Committees have until Thursday to set their priorities bills for this session and Senators have until the end of the day tomorrow (Tuesday) to set their speaker requests. For an explainer on priority bills, check out last week’s blog.

Some bills have already made it to priority status and more will be added as the week goes on. You can check out this page for updates on priority bills over the next few days.

A couple items of note: Senator Kuehn has named LB661 his priority. This bill would make information pertaining to lethal injection drugs unavailable to the public. Additionally, LB622 (Wishart), which would allow for medical cannabis is a priority. It has been set for a hearing in the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, March 15.

Revenue Forecast

With Nebraska’s budget gap growing, the Governor is calling for belt tightening, but he is leaving revenue out of the dialogue. The Governor is still pushing for income tax cuts for the wealthy through LB337. The Open Sky Policy Institute released a statement on why revenue should be part of any discussion related to the lower revenue forecasts.

Hearings Watch 

Today: The Appropriations Committee will hear testimony on the budget for Corrections. Given last week’s riot, expect sharp questions today pertaining to budgetary needs for the Nebraska Department of Corrections. As the LR34 Report shows, the problem is going to take tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, to solve.

Wednesday: Guns, guns, guns will be the issue of the day in the Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Check out the day’s agenda to learn about the different proposals.

Also Wednesday, the Health and Human Services Committee will hear testimony on LB461 (Morfeld), which would expand Medicaid.

Thursday:  The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee will hear several important bills related to voting rights. Meanwhile, the Committee will also hear testimony on  LB25 (Murante), another attempt to switch Nebraska to a winner-take-all system to award presidential and vice-presidential electors to the candidates who wins the most votes statewide, rather than through the current system that enables split electoral votes by popular votes in congressional districts.

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

Bills Scheduled for Floor Debate

LB407 (Pansing Brooks), which establishes the Whiteclay Public Health Emergency Task Force (Tribal Relations Committee Priority), is scheduled for floor debate this week. To learn more about why you should care about the atrocities in Whiteclay, read this recent article in the Norfolk Daily News.

Who Gets to be Heard?

A disturbing trend in some committees this session has been the turning away of testifiers at bill hearings. With a more partisan bent in the Legislature, advocates need to remain cognizant of these threats to ensure voices are heard.

“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” 

– Malala Yousafzai