Week 11 of the Nebraska Legislature

Early last week, a visibly frustrated Speaker Arch delivered a speech reprimanding senators for the continued standstill on the legislative floor that has prevented the body from passing any bills. That day, he said he would retaliate by having legislators work through late nights two weeks earlier than planned. By midweek, however, the Speaker’s tune had changed: In a surprising development, he announced that he and filibuster-leading Sen. Machaela Cavanugh had reached an agreement in order to end the impasse. Cavanaugh had been on her third week of filibustering in protest of Sen. Kauth’s LB 574, the proposed ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth. Arch said that he and Cavanaugh agreed that rather than continuing to talk about LB 574 during other scheduled measures, it would be best to tackle it head-on and let members vote on it.

So, after a break for legislators this weekend, Tuesday will begin the debate on LB 574. It’s sure to be contentious, and it remains unclear whether Sen. Kauth will gather the 33 votes necessary to keep the bill alive. If I had to guess based on what I am hearing, I think it could be defeated, but things around here are increasingly unpredictable so don’t quote me on that. There will be 8 hours of debate before a cloture vote, which will likely land on Thursday morning.

This week brings the final set of committee hearings on bills. After hearings wrap up, the legislature moves to spending all of their time on floor debate. Given the slowdown in the early part of the session, Speaker Arch has cautioned that the body may not have enough time remaining in the session to tackle every senator’s priority. This week’s proceedings will probably mark a turning point that will either see the failure of LB 574 and thus a decrease in filibusters, or the advancement of LB 574 which detractors have said will spur further stall tactics. Thursday was Day 45, marking the halfway point of the 90 day session.

On Friday the long-discussed minority statement was filed on LB 574. Much like a dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court, the minority statement is provided for in the rules of the legislature as a means for dissenting members to express their disagreements with the majority of committee members who have voted out a bill as reflected in the standard committee statement. The minority statement on LB 574 was issued by Senators Day and M. Cavanaugh, two members of the Health and Human Services Committee that opposed advancing the bill. The statement is expected to be publicly viewable on the LB 574 bill page on Tuesday.

Notable Hearings this Week

With the priority deadline already passed, bills that are being heard this week are much less likely to see floor debate this year, unless the introducer is able to get a bill out of committee quickly and gather the votes to have it amended onto something else. It is still important and worthwhile to engage with these hearings because these bills can come back early in next year’s floor debate.

  • LB 371 (Murman): “Anti-Drag” bill which would prohibit minors from attending drag performances
  • LB 177 (Erdman): “My Student My Choice Act” which would allow parents to direct state funds to private school tuition
  • LB 457 (Holdcroft): Requires video surveillance of voting and unnecessary additional anti-tampering measures for vote counting equipment
  • LB 581 (M. Cavanaugh): Creates a pilot program for doula and postpartum services to be provided for women in Nebraska correctional facilities
  • LB 391 (Day): Protects Nebraskans from facing legal punishment for any pregnancy outcome including abortion, stillbirth, or miscarriage
  • LR 20CA (Conrad): Gives voters a chance to enshrine a right to privacy in the state constitution
  • LB 524 (Fredrickson): Tax credit incentive for retailers and restaurants who donate unused food to food banks
  • LB 747 (M. Cavanaugh): Creates an income tax credit for renters
  • LB 106 & 107 (McDonnell): Create a new felony offense for “digital grooming” of minors or vulnerable adults online
  • LB 381 (M. Cavanaugh): Allows counties to impose a sales tax to fund mental health services
  • LB 695 (Linehan): Exempts the first $25,000 in property values from taxation
  • LB 715 (J. Cavanugh): Requires the Governor to apply for remaining available ARPA emergency rental assistance funds

What’s Next

As of last week, all priority designations have been filed. Around day 70 the legislature will have to turn to fulfilling its duty of passing the biennial state budget, which takes precedence over other policy matters. Bills that have not been debated by that time will face dwindling opportunities for advancement in this session. If a priority bill does not get debated this year, a reminder that it will still roll over on next year’s worksheet and be available for prioritization again.

As the Speaker noted late last week, along with the legislature’s obligation to pass the state budget, they are further obligated to pass an implementation plan for voter ID, and are under pressure from the governor to pass school funding bills and other measures related to taxation. He cautioned that those topics alone will comprise a significant chunk of remaining floor time.

If further filibusters continue to slow legislative progress, I would venture a guess that Speaker Arch will have to be judicious about which priority bills to schedule for debate. Past Speakers have set more stringent time limits on debate or requested that introducers demonstrate a certain amount of support for their bill before it can be placed on the agenda; it’s possible Arch may have to implement something similar. However, if opponents of LB 574 are satisfied by the outcome of this week, we could see progress start to chug along more steadily.

Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall