The Clock Ticks
The Legislature’s agenda for the next two months will soon be a lot clearer as the clock ticks on priority bill designations. Most bills brought before the Legislature do not make it to home plate (football season is over, so time to switch up the sports metaphors) unless they are prioritized as “priority” bills to be placed before other bills for floor debate. Each senator and committee has until February 20 to designate a limited number of bills as priority bills. Standing Committees can (generally) designate two bills as priorities, senators get to designate one bill as a priority, and the Speaker gets to designate up to 25 bills as priorities. Senators may make a request to the Speaker to choose one of their bills for priorities or they can work with another Senator who has a priority bill and “amend” important aspects of one of their non-priority bills. The deadline for senators to submit a request for a Speaker priority is Wednesday. Senators will be making a lot of tough and strategic decisions this week. For updates on priorities as they happen, you may want to bookmark this page.
The Office of Public Counsel
The Office of the Public Counsel (also known as the State Ombudsman’s Office) is a legislative staffer’s best friend. This office works to resolve citizens’ complaints against state agencies and it provides important oversight of the Executive Branch. Often, constituents will call a state senator when they are having an issue with an agency and staff will frequently seek the help of the Ombudsman’s Office to resolve the issue. Issues may include denial of Medicaid or other benefits, family reunification after a child has been taken into foster care or treatment of an individual while in state custody. Especially during session, when staff are busier with legislative affairs, the Ombudsman’s Office can provide the type of support that ensures constituent issues are examined and addressed while the business of the Legislature proceeds.
The Office of Public Counsel provides the added benefit of informing important policy changes, particularly through its subsidiary offices. The Office of Inspector General of Child Welfare provides reports on issues like solitary confinement of youth that informs legislation, such as LB870 (Pansing Brooks) that was offered this year to curtail the overuse of solitary confinement of youth. Likewise, the Office of Inspector General of the Nebraska Correctional System provides recommendations in its reports that inform a number of Corrections-related bills. This year, one of those bills includes LB871 (Wishart) which institute a longevity pay plan to deal with understaffing issues at our prisons. The Ombudsman’s Office provides an invaluable resource to serve constituents and provide informed policy recommendations for future legislation.
Hearings will be winding down over the next couple of weeks and all-day debate will soon consume the floor. Get ready for fireworks in March. Tempers usually flare.
Until next time,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall