Week 13 of the Nebraska Legislature

The filibuster by Senators M. Cavanaugh and Hunt continued last week as proponents of LB 574, the ban on gender-affirming care for youth, appeared to be unwilling to give up on pushing the bill forward. As of this writing, this is where things stand on LB 574: As far as most of us can tell, the bill likely still has 33 votes for cloture to defeat a filibuster that it will face again on Select File, probably enabling it to advance to Final Reading. Several of those votes may hinge on the adoption of Senator Kauth’s amendment that limits the scope of the bill to a prohibition on gender-affirming surgical interventions only. Kauth has filed the same amendment for each stage of debate, as well as several “placeholder amendments”, in an effort to wrest control of the floor and increase the chances of the amendment getting adopted. In a nutshell, opponents of LB 574 would need to convince one of those 33 members to not give it a cloture vote on the second round. Obvious targets include the three senators that on General File voted for cloture but not the bill itself – Senators Brandt, Armendariz, and Hughes – but for citizens and organizations interested in advocating against the bill’s passage, no senator is off the table in terms of which of its supporters should receive pressure.

The week started off with the advancement of the temporary rule change offered by Sen. Erdman. The change, filed in response to LB 574 opponents’ tactics the week prior, is aimed at preventing further filibusters in which opponents file and then withdraw successive priority motions in order to control debate on bills they don’t like. Priority motions are those that take precedence in debate, meaning they jump the line over other amendments and motions that may have been offered before them and allow the introducer to speak first. As the conservative majority of legislators grow increasingly frustrated with the slowing down of the session by some in the minority, the adoption of this change was not a surprise.

But Senators Conrad, M. Cavanaugh and Hunt were prepared for this to happen, and in a major power play they filed a whopping stack of 742 motions – several on each priority bill – in order to claim those priority motions on each bill that could be debated for the remainder of the session. Here’s how this works to their advantage: The rule change the legislature passed states that for the remainder of this session, certain priority motions can only be offered once per day per stage of debate on each bill. These motions include motions to bracket, to recommit, or to postpone indefinitely. By offering one of each of these motions on every remaining priority bill, this trio of senators has effectively claimed the use of these motions on each measure. On bills they oppose, this is useful because it enables them to grab control of the mic early and attempt to control the narrative. On bills they support, it’s a way to prevent opponents from using any of these motions to filibuster because the allowable priority motions have already been filed by them. In cases where they want to allow a measure to move forward, they can simply withdraw any of their filed priority motions to allow the bill to progress.

Through the rest of the week, the legislature did make some progress as a handful of bills crawled along. Some critics of the Cavanaugh/Hunt filibuster have pointed out that the two’s tactics have not prevented bills from advancing. But the objective is not to prevent any bills from being voted on or advancing, but rather to burn up as much time as possible, making things difficult for sponsors of measures they oppose, all the while whittling away at the time that remains in the session and thereby minimizing the number of what they view as harmful bills that can pass. Monday is day 55 of the 90-day session, so only 35 legislative days remain at that point. As Speaker Arch has noted, that’s an increasingly tighter squeeze on the time in which the body must pass the implementation of the voter ID ballot initiative, the biennial state budget, education funding, and other key measures concerning revenue and taxation.

A handful of notable bills have advanced this week despite filibusters. Those include:

  • LB 276 (Wishart): Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic Act, intended to increase access to mental health and substance abuse treatment for Medicaid patients
  • LB 77 (Brewer): Permitless concealed carry for handguns
  • LB 754 (Linehan): Income tax package that includes significant reductions for the top individual and corporate income tax rates. The measure was criticized by some in the minority for disproportionately benefitting the state’s highest earners while providing modest relief to low- and middle- income Nebraskans. 

On the Agenda This Week

Legislators will begin this week by finishing up debate over Senator Briese’s property tax relief package (LB 243) and then will move to Senator Sanders’ education funding package (LB 583) which is a priority of the Governor’s. Each should be expected to go the full 8 hours of debate until cloture on General File.

I heard some buzz that the Speaker may be looking to schedule LB 626, Sen. Albrecht’s abortion ban, this week or sometime soon thereafter. If leadership and supporters have the will to see that measure debated and passed, it’s to their advantage to get it on the schedule sooner than later, before senators must turn to fulfilling their obligation to debate the budget and may run out of time for other policy issues.

Monday and Tuesday are the scheduled late nights for the week. Friday through the following Monday the legislature will not be in session for the Easter holiday.

Until next week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall