Week 16 of the Nebraska Legislature

The legislature officially passed its first bill of the session this week when senators sent LB 376, a package of updates to Nebraska’s liquor laws, to the Governor’s desk for signing. Senator M. Cavanaugh continued her filibuster, but with a softer approach, allowing a handful of other “technical cleanup” bills and non-controversial amendments to get through. She and Sen. Hunt have presented a calmer demeanor this past week as they continued to slow down debate on some bills while backing off on others.

This is because in the background, negotiations are underway over the future of LB 574, Sen. Kauth’s proposed ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth. A group of six senators has been meeting to discuss possible amendments to the highly contentious bill. Kauth had pledged late in the second-round debate on the measure that she would work with opponents to see if there was a way to move a compromise forward, after opponents pulled a last minute procedural move that could have derailed the bill had Speaker Arch not put the legislature on pause in order for Kauth to get the bill’s supporters in line.

Since then, this team of negotiators has met several times, and I’m hearing a handful of different rumors floating around as to what’s on the table, the most likely option seeming to be some kind of grandfather clause that would effectively allow youth already receiving gender-affirming care to continue to do so should LB 574 pass. It’s unclear how precarious the bill’s position is: though Kauth has indicated her belief that she has the requisite 33 votes to pass the bill unamended, we can’t be certain whether each of the members who supported it on previous rounds despite purported concerns with its scope will stay consistent and vote to pass it on Final Reading should the body fail to come to a compromise on an amendment.

While these discussions are underway, I’m told that Cavanaugh and Hunt are treading lightly and have opted to shift their filibuster discussion content to other policy matters at hand, rather than continued critiques of the gender-affirming care ban, so as not to further inflame tensions and upset the delicate balancing ground on which negotiations may stand.

The legislature also passed LB 77, Sen. Brewer’s long-fought bill to authorize citizens to carry concealed handguns without a permit. With the permit requirement waived, Nebraskans will no longer need to pay a fee and complete a gun safety course and a background check in order to carry a handgun concealed. The bill also prohibits cities from regulating possession or use of a firearm, which drew opposition from city officials in Lincoln and Omaha.

In yet another “Unicameral first” for most of us watching, a gun control advocate was asked to leave the chamber balcony after she yelled “Shame, shame” at the legislators who had just voted to pass permitless carry. The protester, who leads the gun control advocacy group Nebraskans Against Gun Violence, was then told by the State Patrol that she is barred from capitol grounds for life. This caused a lot of buzz among capitol insiders, media, and civil rights advocates, who questioned the State Patrol’s authority to make such a harsh, permanent move. Some pointed out the inconsistency in this decision compared with other citizen and activist actions which have been offensive or uncouth but which have gone unpunished. I think we will see continued questions about the legitimacy of such a ban and possible legal challenges to this decision down the road.

In an increasingly rare and surprising piece of good news, the Health and Human Services committee voted to advance LB 84 (Day), which would eliminate the sunset on the current eligibility level for SNAP; effectively keeping it at a more reasonable 165% FPL rather than allowing it to revert back to the previous 130% FPL. Another positive is the advancement of LB 254, Sen. Brewer’s bill that would create a public video archive of legislative proceedings. I think we can expect this to pass.

Finally, in some housekeeping business necessitated by the abrupt resignation of Senator Geist, who sat on several committees and served as chair of another, the body held votes on who should fill those vacancies. Former Vice Chair of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee Senator Moser was elected to be its new chair, beating out bids from Senators DeBoer and Brandt.

What’s Next

There’s only three days of session business to be conducted this week, Tuesday through Thursday, with recess days on Monday and Friday. I am hearing that the Government Committee is close to wrapping up its negotiations over how Voter ID should be implemented, and that an amended version of LB 535 (Slama) will be reported out soon, though I haven’t heard anything definitive about when this will be scheduled for debate.

Speaker Arch has stated his intention to schedule LB 626, the abortion ban, on Thursday. The rest of the week, we’re told the body will work through a handful of appropriation bills and bills that are on Select File. Debate of the mainline budget is slated to begin next Wednesday, May 3, and those bills associated with the budget will likely take precedence over other matters for at least the following week or two.

Senator Erdman spoke this week about his continued frustration with the filibuster and desire to see the rules changed again to prevent further use of tactics that we’ve seen the minority use this year. So that could also throw a wrench in the mix, as senators can file rule change proposals at any time.

Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall