Week 10: Budget Debate Begins, Veto Override to Test Senators’ Loyalty to Governor

LB 307 Veto Override

Governor Pillen wasted no time in issuing his veto of LB 307 right away Monday morning, his first of the year. While the move was expected, advocates of the measure may not have anticipated it coming down so promptly after its passage. Per legislative rules, the sponsor of a vetoed bill has five session days to file a motion to override and that motion must also be taken up for debate within five session days. So, we’ll start this week with the LB 307 veto override motion Tuesday morning, following Monday’s recess day.

Whether you’re invested in this particular bill or not, it’s significant for a few reasons. The bill has been roundly supported by a broad coalition of medical, public, and behavioral health experts and providers in the state, as well as law enforcement, who have cited years of data showing Syringe Service Programs’ effectiveness as a tool to combat infectious disease spread, increase access to substance use treatment, and reduce overdose incidences. It handily received robust bipartisan support through debate and passage up until the point of veto, which I’m hearing has since caused trepidation among some previous supporters who have been getting heavy pressure and threats from the Governor’s team. Some might be concerned about challenges to their re-election; others might be afraid of their favorite bills being jeopardized in retaliation from the Governor should they go against his wishes.

I’ve also heard that Speaker Arch is frustrated about Pillen’s lack of solid ground to stand on in his reasoning to veto this one, and that he views it as a waste of legislators’ time and a purely personal/political power play; so we may see a rare team effort between Hunt, Arch, and other unlikely allies who have mounting frustrations with the Governor here. It’ll be this year’s first public test of senators’ willingness to act as members of an independent, coequal branch of government — and what happens here could set the tone for future vetoes Pillen may consider later in the session. A three fifths majority, or 30 votes, is needed for the override to be successful. Read Hunt’s statement in response to the veto here.

Budget Debate to Begin

Debate on the mid-biennium budget adjustment package begins this week after members had a four-day weekend to review it. The Appropriations Committee largely held with the Governor’s proposals for the budget — approving $230 million of the Governor’s proposed $274 million in agency cash reserve sweeps — in order to fund his lofty goal of 40% property tax relief that he continues to double down on. As some skeptics have noted, that amount of relief could be difficult to deliver this session, especially when no tangible mechanism has yet materialized that doesn’t involve politically unpopular tax shifts. At the time of this writing, the Revenue committee has not yet advanced any property tax relief measures, and the session is two-thirds complete.

Rumors of a special session are growing around here, which Pillen himself has threatened if his aims are not achieved during the regular session. He may be hard-pressed to get enough senators — even conservatives — to want to show up and participate in a special session, as it’s sounding like he may not have enough votes in support of his sales tax proposal, which has proven unpopular with voters across the political spectrum.

Surprise Massive Judiciary Exec

You might see that some bills that hadn’t seen activity since last year got voted on last week after the Judiciary Committee unexpectedly scheduled a huge list of bills for a vote. I’ve heard a few things: that this may have been in part due to mounting pressure from senators and stakeholders expressing frustration at the Committee’s lack of action on some bills they’ve been pushed to advance, but there may be a larger motive which is to force certain Committee members to take votes on bills which would be politically unpopular in their districts or that could affect their chances at future leadership roles within the body. For example, Sen. Murman’s proposal to restrict minors’ attendance at “drag” performances (LB 371) died in Committee.

Other News Bites

  • The Nebraska Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of LB 574, last year’s law limiting abortion and gender affirming care, on Tuesday.
  • The Judiciary Committee failed to advance Sen. Riepe’s LB 1109 that would have added an exception for fatal fetal anomalies to LB 574, making it unlikely that the Legislature has an abortion debate this year.
  • LB 1170, Sen. Riepe’s bill that would slash the duration of unemployment benefits from 26 weeks down to 16 weeks, was filibustered; it’s unclear if and when it will be rescheduled or how much support Riepe has for the measure. He designated it as the Business and Labor Committee priority bill without holding a Committee vote on its selection.

Scheduling Announcement

Speaker Arch made an announcement about what we can expect with regard to scheduling moving forward. The first day of the week will begin at 10:00 am. Other days will generally be 9:00 am-5:00 pm with a 12:00-1:30 pm lunch break; except the last day of the week, on which senators will work through lunch and adjourn between 1:00-3:00 pm. Late nights are scheduled for March 18 – April 9. When we resume on Tuesday, we’ll be on day 41 of 60, and the Speaker noted we have “a lot of work remaining and little time to complete it”: The body must tackle the biennial budget adjustment package, which they’ll start this week; and 70-some priority bills that are still on General File or in committee.

Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall