Week 22 of the Nebraska Legislature

Surprise, we’re done!

On Tuesday, Speaker Arch announced that Thursday would be the final legislative day of the session, a week ahead of what would have been the 90th day. The announcement came after Arch received a guarantee from Governor Pillen that he would not wait to issue any additional vetoes so that the body would have the opportunity to hold any necessary override votes before adjourning for the year on Thursday. After what’s felt like an incredibly long and difficult session with a higher than usual number of late nights, this announcement was a welcome one for most senators, staff and advocates.

Wednesday saw debate over whether to sustain or override the Governor’s vetoes. Many conservative members who are often aligned with Governor Pillen on policy stances echoed his message of curbing excessive spending and sticking with the plan for “the package” of bills aimed at shoring up school funding and providing income and tax relief for Nebraskans.

Despite the ongoing filibuster in protest of LB 574, the legislature managed to cram in a lot of progress in these final days; and by the end of the day Thursday, the body had completed debate on each priority bill that had been advanced beyond general file. Those priority bills which remain on general file will carry over to next year’s short session, and could still be advanced in the early part of the 60-day session before new 2024 priority bills are advanced from committees. Of the seven line-item budget vetoes, only one was successful. That provision, supported by a strong majority of the body, restored funding for new staffing and salary increases in the State Auditor’s office, which tracks the use of state dollars and conducts reviews of state funded programs to ensure funds are being allocated properly. Other veto override votes that failed were:

  • The proposed 2% Medicaid provider reimbursement rate increase for fiscal year 2024-2025. Pillen’s veto struck only the proposed funding for the second budget year of the biennium, and left intact a 3% increase for the upcoming fiscal year. Representatives of hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities that provide healthcare services to Medicaid recipients had hoped for the full 5% increase across the biennium as proposed by the Appropriations committee. With inflation and staffing shortages, they told legislators, the availability of critical care for some of our neediest citizens will be reduced. Several senators who spoke in favor of sustaining the veto said that the legislature can come back and increase the Medicaid provider rate again next year if the need persists.
  • A proposed reimbursement rate increase for child welfare providers.
  • Pay increases for court interpreters and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
  • Pay raises for legislative staff. While the body did not vote to override this veto and keep the funding for staff raises in the General Fund budget, it turns out that staffers will get long overdue raises anyway, as the Executive Board voted to approve pay increases that will be paid for with other available funds.
  • Funding for a proposed new facility for pregnant and parenting teens that are wards of the state.

Some senators who spoke in favor of overriding these vetoes questioned whether the body is consistent in applying the “pro life” stance often touted by members, when senators have prioritized tax cuts for the wealthiest Nebraskans while saying no to other “pro life” measures like those that would help care for vulnerable children, the elderly, and rural citizens with limited ability to meet their basic needs for things like health care and housing.

The legislature also passed its Voter ID implementation bill (LB 514), overcoming a filibuster from the measure’s original sponsor Sen. Slama. Slama said that the proposal backed by the Government committee and the Secretary of State’s office is not restrictive enough and will open the door to voter fraud; a claim which others contested, pointing to the lack of any evidence of voter fraud occurring in Nebraska. She further warned that the law could be struck down in court because in her view it does not fulfill the requirements approved by voters. If that did happen, the body would need to come back and fix it in a future or special session- though given the time it takes for something like this to work its way through a court means it’s pretty unlikely that would happen before the next session begins in January. The bill advanced with a resounding 42 votes for cloture.

In a new development related to the implementation of LB 574, the bill restricting abortions and gender-affirming care for trans youth, Dr. Tim Tesmer was confirmed by the legislature as the state’s new Chief Medical Officer. Recall that the bill tasks the CMO with developing regulations for the use of puberty blockers and hormone therapy for minors. In his confirmation hearing the week prior, Tesmer said that he didn’t expect to have these regulations ready by October 1, when the gender-affirming care restrictions will take effect. The regulatory process can be slow because it will require at least one public hearing and likely multiple rounds of revisions and review by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Attorney General, and the State Board of Health. Opponents have cautioned that if there’s a gap between October 1st and the promulgation of these regulations, these treatments will effectively be banned for any minors not covered by the bill’s grandfather clause.

Meanwhile, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood announced the filing of a lawsuit that seeks to prevent the law from being enforced on the grounds that it violates the single-subject rule in the Nebraska constitution. If the judge hearing this case grants an injunction, the law would basically be nullified. However, I have heard that the judge assigned to this case may not be “friendly” on these issues and that the lawsuit may face an uphill battle.

Next week in what will be my final post for the year, we’ll look back at highlights and key themes that emerged this session, recap legislation of interest that passed, and look ahead to what might develop over the interim.

Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall