Week 12 of the Nebraska Legislature

LB 574 Advances to Select File

In the major event of the week, LB 574 (Kauth) – the bill that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth – narrowly overcame a filibuster and advanced to the next round. This was a nail-biter, and none of us knew what would happen in that moment of truth when votes were being cast. While talk over the weekend reflected more uncertainty about the bill’s fate, things quickly changed early Tuesday when we learned that there was a deal underway involving an amendment from Sen. Kauth that would limit the prohibition in the bill to surgical procedures only. The presumption of that amendment’s adoption apparently played a role in swaying some votes from senators who otherwise thought the introduced version went too far.

After three weeks of filibustering led by Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh in protest of the bill, senators engaged in several days of highly emotional debate before reaching the 8-hour cutoff for a cloture vote. 33 senators voted for cloture – the exact number needed for the motion to succeed – but only 30 voted on the motion to advance the bill to Select File. The difference between the two votes is that cloture ends debate and requires 33 votes, while the motion to advance the bill to Select File only requires 25 votes and is on the underlying bill itself.

You may notice that this means three senators who supported cloture did not support its advancement. This is usually an indication that a senator has some kind of reservation about fully supporting the bill. But as critics of the move have noted, giving the bill a cloture vote enables it to stay alive and move on to the motion to advance it; so all of the senators that voted for cloture kept it from failing, and therefore the votes that changed on the advancement to Select File are basically meaningless.

The three were Armendariz, Brandt, and Hughes, all Republicans. Each has since expressed some concern with the scope of the bill and it sounds like they want to support an amended version of the bill that narrows it to prohibiting gender-affirming surgical procedures only. Sen. McDonnell was the lone Democrat that supported both the cloture motion and the bill’s advancement to Select File. Also impacting this vote was the return of Senator Aguilar, who had recently been absent for health reasons.

What happens next for the bill, I’m hesitant to speculate on. Two more rounds of voting remain, in which things could always change. Supposedly proponents of LB 574 have some kind of plan to ensure that the Kauth amendment is adopted, limiting the bill to banning surgical intervention only. But opponents are sure to try their own hand at preventing this with continued filibustering and floor tactics.

Retaliatory Rule Change Offered, Will be Debated Tuesday

The minority of senators that opposed LB 574 wielded a new strategy in order to control debate over the bill, in which they took turns offering successive bracket motions, speaking, and then withdrawing their motions. This enabled them to control the narrative and mostly prevent the measure’s supporters from getting time to speak. But it also drew the ire of LB 574 proponents, resulting in a motion from Sen. Erdman on Friday to change the legislative rules to prevent the use of such tactics for the remainder of the session. That motion, which will be debated Tuesday, would suspend the rules for the rest of this year to permit only one motion to postpone, bracket or recommit to be offered on the same day on the same bill. That is the tactic used by 574 opponents this week of offering successive bracket motions would no longer be permitted. Effectively, if this passes, it would remove another tool from the minority party’s toolbox to hold up legislation they don’t like.

It’s unclear how exactly that debate is going to play out, because officially, debate over rule changes have no time limits. But presumably Speaker Arch will have some interest in not letting that drag on forever, and could implement his own policy to somehow limit that debate.

Ban on Drag for Minors Heard

LB 371, Sen. Murman’s bill to bar minors from being present at what is broadly defined as “drag” performances, drew a lot of attention and mostly opponent testimony late Friday. Drag artists and performers from across the state formed a long line waiting to testify against the bill in the Judiciary Committee, after only about 6 citizens testified in support of the measure. Because of the late stage in session at which this hearing was held, the Judiciary Committee makeup and the bill’s lack of a priority designation, it is unlikely that this bill sees the light of day this year; though there is a possibility it returns next year.

What’s Next

With committee hearings all done for the year, the legislature moves to a new format of all-day floor debate and a couple of late nights each week, at least for now. Tuesday and Wednesday will be late nights, extending until about 9pm according to Speaker Arch.

Based on conversations on and off the floor that I’ve heard, we can expect a continued effort from Senators Cavanaugh, Day and Hunt to filibuster the rest of the priority bills this session unless there is some breakthrough on LB 574.

Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall