Week 21 of the Nebraska Legislature

Much to catch up on this week- we’ll get right into it:

Voter ID (LB 514)

The disagreement between Govt. Committee Chair Brewer and original bill sponsor Sen. Slama over how the voter ID ballot initiative should be implemented continued last week, after Slama had pulled her bill in retaliation against the committee attaching their amendment to it instead of hers. The committee then attached their amendment to another Brewer bill, LB 514, which was taken up for debate midweek and singlehandedly filibustered by Slama.

Slama, who spearheaded the voter ID ballot initiative, favors a more restrictive set of parameters around voter ID requirements, and has called the committee’s less restrictive proposal “fraud friendly.” The committee’s amendment is backed by Secretary of State Evnen and 92 of 93 county election officials in Nebraska. Interestingly, the missing 93rd is Slama’s sister, Emily Ethington, who was appointed Sarpy County Election Commissioner by Gov. Ricketts. Slama’s filibuster was unsuccessful, and LB 514 advanced with the committee’s amendment. Slama has threatened a special session on the issue, but she would need to get the Governor to call one, or the support of 32 of her colleagues to initiate one. Rumors persist about her preparing to run for Secretary of State.

The Budget & Vetoes

After the body sent the $10.7 billion dollar proposed state budget to the Governor’s desk, Governor Pillen wielded his red pen to veto several line items, including cuts to the proposed Medicaid provider rate increase, funding for Court Appointed Special Advocates and court interpreters, and affordable housing funds. The total cost of items vetoed by Gov. Pillen add up to only a small fraction of the spending the legislature has committed to over the next two years with massive tax cuts; much of which will benefit the wealthiest Nebraskans.

The next day, the Appropriations committee voted in favor of overriding three items Gov. Pillen vetoed: the Medicaid provider rate increase, rural and middle-income housing programs, and funds for additional staffing of the State Auditor’s office. The committee’s recommendation alone doesn’t do it: the veto overrides will now go to the floor, where they’ll need 30 votes to be successful.

LB 574 Signed Into law

Following the passage of LB 574, the combined bans on abortion and gender-affirming care for youth, Gov. Pillen wasted no time in signing the bill into law. At the signing ceremony, bill sponsor Sen. Kauth spoke in praise of the bill’s purported protection of children, and said that the bill would not have passed had Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh not led a filibuster against it in the months leading up to the vote. Some took this to suggest that some senators who voted for LB 574 may have been motivated by spite rather than genuine support for the policies. Gov. Pillen raised some eyebrows with a remark that he believes parents and healthcare providers who try to affirm trans or gender-dysphoric children are under the influence of “Lucifer.” Even more concerning for opponents was Pillen’s declaration that the 10-week abortion ban and the ban on gender-affirming care for minors “are only the beginning,” which suggests that we could anticipate more restrictive bills to be brought forth in the next session, such as a total abortion ban and/or restrictions around gender-affirming care for adults or other attempts to restrict the rights of trans people.

The abortion ban portion took effect immediately, while the gender-affirming care restrictions are effective as of Oct. 1. Recall that the bill contains a grandfather clause saying that those youth already undergoing treatment will in theory be able to continue it; but with the delegation of authority to the governor-appointed Chief Medical Officer to regulate or restrict those treatments, it’s unclear how accessible these types of treatments will be after that date. Parents and families with concerns about this issue should stay in touch with our friends at OutNebraska, who are keeping a close eye on the implementation of the bill.

Since the bill passed, filibuster leaders M. Cavanaugh and Hunt have pledged to continue their resistance next year.

LB 753: Private School Tax Scheme advances

This bill, which has been a priority of Sen. Linehan’s for years now, became intertwined last week with the fate of LB 50, the Judiciary committee’s package of criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing our state’s severe prison overcrowding problem in a time when the state is poised to spend a pretty penny on a brand new prison facility.

Linehan needed the votes of Sens. Wayne and McKinney to keep her bill alive, and the latter two leveraged their voting power to get Linehan and other conservatives to vote in favor of their hard-fought LB 50. This deal is what ultimately allowed both bills to move forward. Wayne has pledged to continue working with opponents before the final round of debate on LB 50, namely new appointee Sen. Bosn, a former prosecutor, who has issues with changes to the “habitual criminal” statutes proposed in the bill.

LB 753 passed final reading with 33 votes and has gone to the Governor’s desk for signing. Critics and advocates of public schools have long seen this as just the first step in a larger strategy to privatize education in Nebraska. Our neighbors in Iowa have recently seen the same kind of policy lead to tuition hikes in their private schools, suggesting that the purported benefit of making these schools more accessible to lower income families may not be realistic.

Proponents of the measure, which would give a dollar-for-dollar tax credit to donors to private school scholarship granting organizations, say that it will help families of students that struggle in public schools to be able to afford to send them to a private school. But the data doesn’t bear that out: in other states that have passed this type of policy, most donations went to wealthier families who are already sending their kids to private schools.

The bill would privilege one type of charitable giving above all others: giving to any other cause does not receive the same generous dollar-for-dollar tax credit. Opponents questioned why the state should incentivize this one type of giving more than donations to food banks or other nonprofits that provide services to the neediest in our communities. There’s little evidence of private schools improving academic outcomes, and these schools are not bound by the same rules and regulations as public schools which, as opponents have pointed out, allows them to discriminate against students with little recourse available to families.

Efforts are already underway to overturn the measure. Support our Schools Nebraska is seeking donors and volunteers to collect signatures to get this on the ballot for possible repeal in 2024.

What’s Next

After the Memorial Day holiday, five legislative days officially remain; though I continue to hear rumors about adjournment coming one or two days early. The body will take up Select File debate of Voter ID on Tuesday, along with getting less contentious measures passed on final reading. Veto override votes are expected beginning Wednesday.

Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall