Last week wrapped up the final set of all-day committee hearings, much to senator and staff relief. Despite a recess day Monday, the week was a heavy one, with several bills on hot topics drawing large crowds.
The Judiciary committee had its “Marijuana Day”, hearing three bills that would legalize marijuana to some degree. Sen. Wishart’s approach (LB 588) is the most restrictive, allowing the use of cannabis only for certain medical purposes. Sen. McKinney took a different approach with his LB 634, a bill that would allow for recreational cannabis to be sold, regulated and taxed in the state, while decriminalizing use for people age 21 and up. His bill also provides a “clean slate” mechanism for removing a marijuana conviction from one’s criminal record. Sen. Wayne offered LB 22, the most permissive measure of the three, fully decriminalizing the possession and use of cannabis. Sens. McKinney and Wayne spoke about the racial justice angle of their proposals, pointing to how black Nebraskans have been disproportionately charged with marijuana offenses.
A bill that would ban gender affirming care for trans youth (LB 574, Kauth) drew a crowd of testifiers that filled the Capitol and had lines stretching down the halls and into overflow rooms. Sen. Kauth calls her bill the “Let them Grow” Act. It would bar doctors from referring youth for or providing them with gender affirming care, under threat of losing their license to practice medicine. Sen. Kauth said it’s important to give young people experiencing gender dysphoria and their families time to work through what they are feeling before making what she called life altering medical decisions. Some proponents spoke about how they had identified with characteristics of the opposite sex as a youth – e.g. “tomboyism”, but then grew to be glad they did not do anything to alter their gender when they were younger.
Testimony was heard from several medical experts who said that gender affirming surgical care is almost never offered to minors, and that puberty blockers which are sometimes provided are completely reversible. Many trans young people and their loved ones spoke about the capacity for this bill to place the lives of trans youth at risk of suicide. The energy at this hearing was highly emotional, and I think we can expect a similar temperature on Monday when Sen. Kauth’s other bill on the topic, LB 575, is heard. That bill would prevent trans students from using the restroom or locker room of, or playing on the sports team that aligns with, their gender identity.
We staffers in senators’ offices have heard mounting frustration from the public about the arbitrary time limits that committee chairs have imposed on some of the most controversial bills being heard this year. We know that some citizen advocates have taken time off work, traveled, made childcare arrangements, and come to wait in line at the Capitol for 6+ hours just to be unable to testify after hearings have been cut short, some more than once. Some have only been allowed two minutes to speak, which may seem hardly worth the wait and effort.
The decisions about scheduling and time limits on bill hearings are completely up to committee chairs. If you have feedback on how this has been going, I encourage you to contact the chair of the respective committee by phone or email. The legislative process is supposed to be accessible to input from the citizens of the “Second House”, and setting a time limit of a few hours for proponents and opponents is limiting that citizen voice and giving an inaccurate picture of public opinion. If your organization or someone you know has been unable to testify in person on a bill they care about, I’d also encourage you or them to submit their testimony to committee members via email.
Hearings of Note This Week
-LB 256 (Brewer): Requires insurance companies to reimburse telehealth service providers at the same rate as for in-person services, increasing access to care in rural areas
-LB 327 (Raybould): Caps the increase on the minimum wage passed by voters last fall at 1.5%
-LB 670 (Hunt): Prohibits employers of any size from discriminating against LGBTQ employees
-LB 99 (M. Cavanaugh): Provides free breakfast and lunch to all public school students
-LB 575 (Kauth): Ban on trans youth participation in sports, described above
-LB 630 (McKinney): Requires the State Department of Education and school boards to adopt a written dress code and grooming policy, intended to protect students from being disciplined for wearing religious attire, natural or protective hairstyles, or displaying other characteristics associated with race or religion
-LB 487 (Hunt): Prohibits any school receiving public funds from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, citizenship status, gender identity or sexual orientation, and other categories
-LB 199 (Brewer): Provides for a driving privilege card for authorized aliens living in Nebraska that are ineligible for driver licenses
-LB 60 (J. Cavanaugh): Limits on the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in juvenile correctional facilities
-LB 339 (McKinney): Juvenile justice reform package that includes prohibiting life sentences without parole for juveniles
-LB 422 (Kauth): Shields medical providers from licensure repercussions if they express an opinion or provide medical advice that is inconsistent with medical consensus
-LB 358 (Walz): Increases the Medicaid reimbursement rate for dental care to increase access to dental care for Medicaid patients
-LB 306 (Hunt): Creates a Bill of Rights for youth in foster care so they can advocate for themselves while in state care
This week we’re back to business as usual, with floor debate in the mornings and committee hearings in the afternoons. The first set of bills slated for debate are those on “worksheet order”, the first set of bills to advance from committee in the order reported by committees before priority bills have been designated. These will mostly be non-controversial bills that have majority support and are unlikely to see substantive debate.
Friday is a recess day for senators. The last day of public hearings will be March 24. The last day on which senators and committees can declare their priority bills is March 14. At the conclusion of this week, with day 30 on Thursday, this legislature will be ⅓ completed.
Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall