Week 7 of the Nebraska Legislature

Senators will be coming back refreshed (?) from a four day weekend this week, with last Friday’s recess day and Monday’s Presidents Day holiday. They’ll continue debate of General File bills in worksheet order in the mornings with hearings in the afternoons. This continues through nearly the end of March, though as priority bill designations start to roll in the Speaker will probably start scheduling some of those for debate ahead of the other non-priority General File bills.

Most floor time was spent this past week on debate over confirmation reports. When a Governor appoints someone to be a member of a board or to lead an agency, the appointee first has a hearing in the committee of issue jurisdiction. The committee then recommends for or against the appointment of that individual to the respective board or agency. When these confirmation reports come to the floor, they need a majority of senators voting in favor in order for the confirmation to be complete. In most cases, they go off without a hitch. Occasionally though, some senator(s) will find something about the appointee to take issue with, and that’s what we saw happen last week. A handful of senators raised concerns about a couple of the appointees scheduled for confirmation on the agenda. Other senators criticized them, saying it’s a waste of floor time to squabble over these confirmations, which have already been vetted by the Governor and committees. Those senators who wanted to take time debating the appointments explained that time spent on these discussions is not a waste, because these boards and agencies have a significant influence on matters of public policy in Nebraska which affects constituents. One of these which garnered the most criticism was for the reappointment of Department of Environment and Energy head Jim Macy, who was at the helm during the now-closed AltEn plant’s operation at Mead, NE. The small town has suffered from AltEn’s creation of tons of toxic waste and gallons of wastewater left in the community. Some senators questioned Macy’s fitness for such a role given that his administration did not prevent the catastrophic pollution that occurred in Mead despite their oversight authority over AltEn. After extended debate, Macy was ultimately confirmed.

The Education Committee again drew a large crowd for the hearing on Senator Kauth’s LB 575, dubbed the Sports and Spaces Act. The bill would prohibit trans students from using the restroom, locker room, or playing on the sports team that reflects their gender identity. Meaning, school restroom facilities and sports teams would be designated as male or female only and access would be restricted to students of that respective assigned gender at birth. Proponents and Kauth called the Act a necessary protection for cisgender girls in school athletics, who they said could face an unfair disadvantage if competing against transgender girls. Opponents called it an effort to further stigmatize and marginalize trans students, citing the lack of any documented instance of a trans student assaulting another student in a school locker room, and pointing to the higher rates of bullying and risk for suicide among trans youth.

When Education Committee chair Murman cut off testimony for the evening before many had a chance to speak, some opponent testifiers were left in tears after having waited all day long in line to testify against the bill. Committee member Sen. Wayne then offered his office for testifiers who were cut off to have a chance to share their stories with him.

I will emphasize again that Nebraskans who have been denied the opportunity to provide their input on legislation that is important to them can always call or email their senator or senators in charge of committees to share their perspectives.

Senator Raybould’s LB 327 also drew a lot of attention in the Business and Labor committee last week. Raybould, whose family owns a chain of local grocery stores, brought the bill to cap upcoming annual increases to the minimum wage passed by voters on the ballot last fall. The measure that Nebraskans approved would bump the state minimum wage up to $15/hour in 2026, then increase it annually thereafter based on the Consumer Price Index.

Raybould’s bill would cap that annual increase at 1.5% or the CPI, whichever is smaller. Since with inflation, the change in the CPI has been significantly larger than 1.5% in recent years, Raybould’s bill would prevent the minimum wage from growing at the rate which voters intended: one that would keep pace with the cost of living.

Notable Hearings this week

  • LB 606 (Albrecht): Creates a tax credit for donors to “Crisis Pregnancy Centers”
  • LB 222 (Fredrickson): Prohibits public colleges from inquiring about applicant criminal history
  • LB 707 (Dungan): Provides grant money to the City of Lincoln to develop affordable housing
  • LB 53 (McKinney): Establishes a new state holiday, Malcolm X Day
  • LB 20 (Wayne): Allows for reinstatement of voting rights for ex felons
  • LB 42 (Hansen): Excludes certain reasonable independent childhood activities from qualifying as neglect, such as biking or walking home from school alone
  • LB 87 (Hunt): Lowers the age of medical consent for healthcare decisions from 19 to 18
  • LB 276 (Wishart): Expands Medicaid reimbursement of community behavioral health clinics, to increase availability of behavioral health services
  • LB 714 (J. Cavanaugh): Increases state grant funding for affordable housing projects

What’s Next

As of this writing, 6 Senators have declared their personal priority bills. These include a couple of measures sure to stir up debate on the floor: LB 77 (Brewer), a bill to allow the concealed carry of firearms without a permit, and LB 79 (Erdman), his bill to replace Nebraska’s three-legged taxation system with a single consumption tax that would disproportionately impact the poor. I am told that Wednesday, the HHS committee will hold its executive session to vote out LB 626, Sen. Albrecht’s abortion ban. It’s certain to be prioritized by Albrecht or one of her cosponsors. I have also heard that the Education committee will soon vote on Sen. Kauth’s two anti-trans measures.

Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall