Week 10 of the Nebraska Legislature

This past week was all about LB 753, Sen. Linehan’s priority bill that would create a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donors to organizations that grant scholarships for students to attend private schools. Under LB 753, Nebraska residents and corporations could claim a nonrefundable income tax credit equal to up to 50% of their state income tax liability for donations to one of these “scholarship granting organizations”. Proponents of the bill, which Linehan has brought several times during her tenure in the legislature, say that public schools are not meeting the unique needs of every student, and that the bill would create more options for low-income families to send their children to a private school that might work better for them.

Frequently mentioned in debate was the Omaha Public School system, which some of the measure’s supporters said fails to adequately serve many lower income students of color in North Omaha. Senators Wayne and McKinney, both registered Democrats who represent some of the highest-poverty areas in Omaha, sided with the bill’s otherwise mostly Republican supporters on the basis of racial equity arguments. Both said that families in their districts had urged them to support the measure to give children in those communities a better option, and recounted instances of discrimination that children of color have experienced in public schools in North Omaha.

Proponents also argued that students with disabilities might not receive the full spectrum of services they need from some Nebraska public schools, and told stories of students with disabilities having better experiences once they transferred to a private school.

Opponents raised a wide variety of arguments against the measure, saying that donors are currently free to make donations to these organizations or to private schools directly if they wish. It’s not about the merits of public versus private schools, or a debate over whether parents should or should not have the choice they currently have to send their child to a private school, they said: the crux of the matter is that the bill provides a financial incentive for typically wealthier donors by dipping into public tax dollars that could otherwise be used to strengthen our public schools.

The opposing side also emphasized that while incidents of discrimination have happened in public schools, the difference is that private schools are not beholden to the broad spectrum of state and federal laws and regulations that provide an avenue for recourse for any families that may have experienced discrimination at a public school. Chief among concerns for opponents was parochial institutions’ well-documented practice of discriminating against LGBTQ children and families. Some argued that if the legislature is concerned about providing opportunities to low-income families, there are a plethora of better avenues available for them to do so, such as measures to increase support for SNAP, affordable housing, and childcare.

After several days of filibuster, the measure succeeded on a cloture motion to cut off debate with 33 votes, and then advanced to select file with 31 votes. This could be something to watch in subsequent debate rounds. The two votes for cloture that did not carry over on the vote to advance the measure to select file could signal a hesitancy from a couple of moderate Republicans to support its passage. Sometimes, lawmakers will agree to support a controversial bill by “giving it cloture”, but not to ultimately vote to approve the measure.

Also of note last week was the Business and Labor Committee’s advancement of two controversial measures to restrict the minimum wage increase as approved by voters on the ballot last fall. LB 15 (Briese), which creates a subminimum wage for young workers, was amended into and combined with LB 327 (Raybould), that limits annual cost of living adjustments to the minimum wage – meaning the minimum wage is unlikely to keep pace with inflation as voters intended. Keep an eye on LB 327 moving forward; it does not yet have a priority designation, but I think chances are good it could get one and be debated in the coming weeks.

Notable Hearings this Week

  • LB 618 (McDonnell): Allows work-authorized immigrants to be eligible for unemployment benefits
  • LB 502 (M. Cavanaugh): Provides protections for warehouse workers
  • LB 752 (M. Cavanaugh): Prohibits any entity that receives state funds from discriminating
  • LB 367 (Conrad): Fair Chance Hiring for job seekers with criminal convictions
  • LB 724 (Vargas): Reduces testing and skill competency requirements for teacher certification, intended to reduce the teacher shortage
  • LB 627 (Bostar): Provides free school meals to students
  • LR 4CA (M. Cavanaugh): Would allow voters to restore the voting rights of felons except for those that have been convicted of treason
  • LB 88 (Hunt): Lifts the lifetime ban on SNAP eligibility for people with certain drug-related felony convictions
  • LB 85 (Day): Provides expedited eligibility for the Children’s Health Insurance program
  • LRs 18 & 19CA (Hunt): Would allow voters to enshrine the right to reproductive freedom in the Nebraska constitution
  • LR 17CA (McKinney): Would allow voters to prohibit the death penalty
  • LB 764 (Lippincott): Shifts Nebraska’s electoral system to winner-take-all rather than splitting electoral votes
  • LB 127 (Wayne): Limits maximum sentences for minors convicted of felonies
  • LB 185 (J. Cavanaugh): Sends $500 million in direct relief checks to Nebraska taxpayers
  • LB 365 (Hunt): Allows all counties to conduct elections by mail

What’s Next

Speaker Arch has indicated that the body will spend some time on committee bills and other bills which need to be passed but which are less likely to trigger a filibuster this week. No indication as of this writing what the next hot-topic debate will be. Senator and Committee priority bill designations are due Tuesday, and the Speaker will announce his priority bills on Wednesday. Two weeks of hearings remain.

A note about LB 626, the abortion ban, and LB 574, the gender affirming care ban’s scheduling: The minority statements we discussed a couple of weeks back have not yet been filed and I’m told they’re still in the works. They just need to be filed before the measures are scheduled for General File debate. One member of the body has been absent for health reasons, and the word is that 626 (and likely any other measures hinging on his vote) will not be scheduled until this member returns, because proponents can’t afford to lose one of their crucial 33 votes to overcome a filibuster. The later it gets into session, the closer we’ll get to the time when the budget has to take precedence over other policy matters – leaving the fate of many priority bills in a more precarious place.

Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall