Week 9 of the Nebraska Legislature

The major development of last week was the advancement of LB 77, Sen. Brewer’s priority bill that would allow for concealed carry of handguns without a permit. Currently, handgun owners must complete a background check, a safety course, and pay a $100 fee to obtain a permit to carry concealed. Open carry of handguns does not currently require a permit.

The controversial bill reached cloture and overcame a filibuster after several days of debate, in which supporters- who describe the measure as “constitutional carry”- framed it as an issue of unreasonable restrictions on the second amendment granting citizens the right to bear arms. Proponents said the bill’s exemption of individuals prohibited from owning firearms by reason of a felony conviction or domestic violence helps make it safer. Opponents countered with concerns about how many guns are not obtained at a store where a background check would be conducted, and pointed to the alarming rise in mass shooting events in the U.S. More guns that are easily accessed by individuals without any training and/or those with mental health issues that have not been identified in the criminal background check system will contribute to more gun violence, they said. Lincoln and Omaha senators cited concerns from those cities’ officials about the bill’s provision which would bar localities from setting their own firearm regulations, such as safe storage laws.

At the end of the 8-hour filibuster, Brewer’s bill prevailed with the adoption of an amendment that would add a misdemeanor charge for some “dangerous” crimes if committed while carrying a firearm. The amendment was designed to alleviate concerns for some law enforcement associations, who had concerns about the ability of potential criminals that may not be on the “prohibited persons” list to access guns. Senators Wayne and McKinney cautioned that this additional criminal penalty would disproportionately apply to people of color.

The temperature around the debate seemed considerably lower this year, a small relief for those of us working in the building. Previous attempts have seen crowds of gun rights advocates showing up to the Capitol and open carrying in the balcony to pressure senators, as well as more heated exchanges between opponents and Brewer. With the recent incidents of a shooting at an Omaha Target and a Lincoln child bringing a gun to school which were emotionally discussed by LB 77 opponents during debate, it’s probably to supporters’ advantage to keep things cool.

From an insider perspective, this Fly is unsure whether the passage of this bill is a done deal. With it garnering 36 votes to advance to Select File, it’s in a pretty strong position to go the distance; however, it is very possible that some of those votes were agreements that applied only to this first round and they may change on the second vote. It would have to lose 4 of those 36 supportive votes to face defeat by a filibuster on Select, which would be surprising but not unheard of.

Last week also had what some of us affectionately called “Gay Day” in committee hearings, with a handful of proposals to advance or protect the rights of the LGBTQ community. Proposals from Senators Fredrickson, Day, DeBoer, and Hunt would prohibit the harmful debunked practice of conversion therapy; remove outdated gendered language from statutes and marriage licenses; allow for two-parent adoptions regardless of marital status; and prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. It will be interesting to see if any of those bills advance from committee, especially this year when there’s so much vitriol being aimed at LGBTQ Nebraskans. I can’t say for sure, but those going through the Judiciary committee might have a shot.

Notable Hearings this Week

  • LB 632 (McKinney): Prohibits suspension of pre-K through 2nd grade students in Omaha
  • LR 24CA (Albrecht): Eliminates State Board of Education and replaces it with a Governor-appointed Education Commissioner
  • LR 28CA (Linehan): Changes Board of Education members from elected to Governor-appointed positions
  • LB 424 (DeBoer): Creates a state Department of Housing and Urban Development to address the affordable housing crisis
  • LR 3CA (J. Cavanaugh): Provides for nonpartisan nomination and election of the Governor and other executive branch offices
  • LB 290 (M. Cavanaugh) & LB 310 (Conrad): Increase ADC benefit amounts by adjusting the “Standard of Need”
  • LB 510 (Conrad): Increases child welfare rates by imposing an annual cost-of-living adjustment
  • LB 405 (Vargas): Adds reporting requirements to the Non-English Speaking Workers Protection Act to increase policymaker awareness of conditions in meatpacking plants
  • LB 178 (Erdman): Requires “In God we Trust” to be displayed in schools
  • LB 159 (McDonnell): Provides grants for higher education expenses to eligible foster youth
  • LB 679 (Day): Creates a grant program for schools to conduct Holocaust and genocide education
  • LB 248 (Vargas): Prohibits source of income discrimination in housing
  • LB 175 (Dungan): Creates a mechanism to have eviction proceedings removed from a tenant’s record
  • LB 187 (J. Cavanaugh): Establishes a tenant’s right to legal counsel when facing eviction in Lincoln or Omaha
  • LR 2CA (Erdman): Changes the one-house legislature to a bicameral
  • LB 333 (Conrad): Requires Medicaid coverage of family planning services
  • LB 291 (M. Cavanaugh): Requires implicit bias training for licensed healthcare professions
  • LB 677 (Day): Grants for nonprofits that assist TANF recipients with removing barriers to employment and education
  • LB 192 (Halloran): Exempts Social Security Income from Homestead Exemption eligibility

What’s Next

On Monday the legislature will again debate Sen. Linehan’s priority bill LB 753, the Opportunity Scholarships Act. You’ll be familiar with this bill and the surrounding debate if you’ve tuned in to the legislature in recent years. It would give a dollar for dollar income tax credit to individuals or corporations that donate to “scholarship granting organizations” that distribute the donations in the form of scholarships or vouchers toward a child’s attendance at a private school. This will surely see a filibuster, and I expect the vote to be close.

This week holds the deadline for Senators to request a Speaker Priority on any of their bills. The speaker gets 25 of these, and it’s another avenue outside one’s personal priority to slot a bill higher up in the debate queue and increase its chances of seeing a vote. With the way the clock is running up on so many controversial bills this year, it’s increasingly clear that most bills will need some type of priority to see the light of day before the end of this session. The deadline for Senators to declare their personal priorities is the following week on March 14.

Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall