Rules Debate Concludes, Nonpartisanship Preserved

Tuesday and Wednesday’s agendas were filled with the less controversial, streamlining and process improvement-type rule change proposals — mostly introduced by Speaker Arch — which had advanced from the Rules committee with a unanimous 5-0 vote. After debating at length and amending some of those, the legislature adopted them all.

That left the “big 4” we discussed last week, as well as another controversial Erdman proposal that would have required a show of hands of 5 or 10 lawmakers to introduce key procedural motions, heavily favoring the political majority’s ability to impact debate while harming the minority’s. These were all placed on Thursday’s and Friday’s agendas.

Did Speaker Arch do us* a solid in determining the schedule for the week, by placing some of the most potentially damaging changes at the end of the line in hopes that they wouldn’t see a vote? Or did he just really want to ensure that his own more minor changes had a chance to get passed first before the others inevitably took up the rest of the time? Either, or some combination of both things, are possible.

Mostly-minority members extended debate on each scheduled item, taking time to question the reasoning and necessity behind the proposals, to fine-tune the details of the language that might be enshrined in the rulebook, and to discuss the possible implications and consequences of each. As a result, only two of these controversial measures were taken up for debate and a vote:

  • End the secret ballot process for leadership elections (Erdman): FAILED. This received 26 yes votes, 4 short of the required 30 votes (a three-fifths majority) to amend the permanent rules. Notable were majority members Aguilar, Brandt, Dorn, Hughes, and Riepe who voted no. This may spell trouble for those conservatives who had the courage to vote differently than the rest of the majority; if you or your organization is pleased with this vote, send those senators some encouragement or thanks.

  • Limit number of bills per senator (Hansen): PASSED, as amended. Hansen’s original language he brought to the committee set the cap at 14 bills per senator per session, and provided an extra priority bill designation for those that introduced 5 or less. During debate, senators amended this to a limit of 20 bills per senator, and added language to clarify that this takes effect at the beginning of next year’s session.

    I did hear that as the vote drew near, opponents had gathered enough votes in opposition to block this rule change’s passage — with the help, probably, of some of those more moderate conservatives listed above — but that Erdman and his backers threatened to refuse to vote to adjourn that day and attempt to force debate and votes on his other controversial proposals on the agenda if Hansen’s was blocked. They may have had the votes to do so, too, so it appears that opponents of the other Erdman changes held their noses and let this change get through as a compromise “lesser of evils” compared to the other proposals.

All in all, we* can consider these past couple of weeks of “Rules Time”, from the committee hearings and input shared, to debate and the final votes, roundly a win for our unique Unicameral and the citizens that participate in it. Given the possible monumental changes that were at stake, we came away with only one of those — the Hansen proposal — being adopted, and in a less limiting form than what was originally proposed. The minority’s ability to impact debate and block extreme legislation remains intact; the media retains its right to report on what is discussed in committee Executive Sessions; and legislators can continue to choose its leaders based on who is best fit for the job, rather than being influenced by partisan pressure or threat of retaliation.

*Us/we being lovers of our Nonpartisan Unicameral and Nebraskans everywhere who want to see the norms of its democratic process preserved.

Pillen Rethinking Sales Tax, Property Tax Relief Approach

Since I last wrote about Governor Pillen’s touted plan to increase the sales tax by 2% to offset property taxes, the proposal has proved unpopular, with 70% of Nebraskans polled opposing the plan. He has since stepped back from that idea, with Senator Linehan introducing a Pillen-backed bill (LB 1315) that would raise the sales tax by a smaller 1%. He continued to vow that he would deliver a 40% reduction in property taxes in his State of the State address this week, though the details of his plan remain unclear. A number of bills have been introduced that could be “shell bills” that will eventually be amended to contain elements of Pillen’s plan when it’s finished (see LB 1317, Linehan). Critics continue to note that raising the sales tax to offset property taxes is effectively taxing the poor to relieve the tax burden on the rich.

Amid the flurry over the rules debate, Day 10 of this year’s session passed last week on Tuesday, meaning senators can no longer bring any new legislation for the year. This week with hearings beginning, we transition to a new schedule of morning debate on carryover legislation followed by afternoon hearings, which will last through Feb. 29.

Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall