Week 14 of the Nebraska Legislature

Things continue to chug slowly along in what’s now the latter third of this year’s legislative session. Now that we’re deep into late nights, a lot can happen in a few short days. Last week, legislators debated and advanced a property tax relief package (LB 243, Briese), the Governor’s education funding proposal (LB 583, Sanders), a requirement that telehealth services be reimbursed on par with in-person healthcare services (amended into LB 296, Ballard), and a bill to require school districts to adopt a written dress code and grooming policy aimed at protecting students with natural hairstyles or those that wear cultural garb (LB 630, McKinney).

Senators M. Cavanaugh and Hunt are still leading an effort to filibuster every bill in protest of LB 574, the youth gender affirming care ban. They have, however, made it clear to their colleagues that they are willing to work with bill sponsors who come to them to ensure that necessary bills and amendments thereto can advance; so that’s what we’ve seen happen a few times when Hunt or Cavanaugh has withdrawn amendments or motions to let debate move forward.

On Tuesday, some were surprised when Speaker Arch opted to pass over the scheduled second-round debate of LB 753, Sen. Linehan’s private school donation tax credit proposal. That day happened to also be Primary Election Day for Lincoln voters, in which Sen. Suzanne Geist was running for Mayor. It’s presumed that Arch fumbled the scheduling on this day, failing to consider that Geist and supporters would want to be at an election night watch party as results came in. With Geist absent, LB 753 was in peril of not having the 33 votes needed to advance, so Arch did Linehan a favor there by skipping over it. When that bill will be next scheduled I have not heard, but rumor has it a compromise has been struck between Linehan and three moderate Republican senators who might have previously opposed the measure in order to bring them on board.

In a major development, Geist announced her resignation from the legislature the following day, after she had taken second place in the Lincoln mayoral primary to advance to the General Election. Geist’s comments were brief and centered on her desire to go “all in” on the Mayor’s race. Speculation is that this is a win-win for Geist as well as Republican leadership in the body: With her Mayoral bid front of mind, Geist has had to tread carefully on her votes lately for fear of scrutiny from largely Democratic Lincoln voters. That is, she’d have had to continue to think twice about her votes on hot-button issues like guns, abortion, and LGBT rights in an effort to appear less far-right to Lincoln voters. That could have been a liability both for her and Republican leaders in the body who need to be able to count on her seat as the 33rd vote to get their top issues passed.

The rumor mill around the Capitol as to who would get the job was quickly churning in the short period between Geist’s announcement and the news of Pillen’s decision to replace her, with many speculating that a former legislative staffer who is running for Geist’s seat would be the heir apparent. But as sometimes happens around here, the rumor was incorrect. With Geist’s resignation confirmed, Governor Pillen acted quickly to appoint her successor the next day. His pick is Carolyn Bosn, a Lincoln attorney and adjunct professor at the UNL College of Law, who formerly served as a deputy Lancaster County attorney. She is now a stay-at-home mom. Bosn, a devout Catholic, made a point to affirm her pro-life stance in her comments at the Governor’s press conference announcing her appointment, so it seems we can expect her to follow the votes of her far-right colleagues-to-be on issues like abortion. Bosn will serve the final year of Geist’s term and will be eligible to run for the seat in the November 2024 election. She will be sworn in when the Legislature resumes post-Easter Break on Tuesday.

What’s Next

Monday is a holiday for the observation of Easter. On Tuesday the body will begin debate on the budget package and other spending-related measures. Several of those have been designated as “Speaker Major Proposals”. The Speaker has the privilege of selecting five such bills in each session, and it’s a significant tool because it allows him to set the order of debate, bypassing the normal rules about the order in which motions and amendments are taken up. Effectively, he has the power to reorder “the board” to ensure that any necessary committee amendments, amendments by the introducer or other “friendly” amendments get a chance to be advanced first and lessen the chances of unfriendly motions or amendments getting debated or eating up time.

Also of interest to advocates will be the scheduled debate of LB 254, Sen. Brewer’s bill that would create a publicly accessible digital video archive of the legislature’s proceedings. This would be a huge development for legislature watchers, as no such archive currently exists and advocates thus far have had to take matters into their own hands by making recordings of committee hearings and floor proceedings they’re interested in. Currently, all legislative proceedings are documented by Legislative Transcribers, and interested citizens can read through .pdf documents to learn what was said in a hearing or during a given debate – but much is left out when you don’t get to see and hear the video and audio along with the written text. So, I think this one will garner some bipartisan support.

LB 626 (Albrecht), the six-week abortion ban, will be debated on Wednesday. This one will be close. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are scheduled as late nights. As far as I know, there has been no movement on the filibuster and stalemate over LB 574, so expect bills to continue to be taken to cloture. Budgetary measures may be an exception.

Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall