Inside the Rotunda, Week 12

The Week That Went Haywire 
Last week started off innocently enough. Legislators were passing bills to tackle the school-to-prison pipeline, help the Legislature plan for revenue volatility and long-term program needs and create sales tax exemptions for public power facilities owned by political subdivisions. 

But the week hurtled off course from there and many legislators would develop hard feelings as the week progressed. It started as LR14CA (Wayne) was removed from the agenda after the bill hit the three-hour mark for debate. Once again, the culprit for at least some of the hard feelings appeared to be the Speaker’s special “rule” whereby he pulls a bill from the agenda after three hours of debate and forces the introducer to then show he/she has a supermajority of the body (33 votes) to bring the bill back to the agenda. LR14CA would create a ballot measure that, if approved, would extend repayment periods for Tax Increment Financing (TIF) debts from 15-20 years if more than half the property in a project area is extremely blighted. 

The tiff over TIF was followed by a successful filibuster of LB169 (Hunt), which would have allowed Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for certain drug felons who currently have lifetime bans from the program. Senator Hunt had 37 senators in her vote count, but nine fell away after the Governor’s Office began applying pressure. Senators Suzanne Geist and John Arch worked with Senator Hunt on a compromise amendment and pledged their votes, but they and others withdrew their support, leaving hard feelings. Perhaps making matters worse, some conservative senators took to the microphone before the vote to criticize Senator Hunt for comments she made on social media. The implication seemed to be that there was a cause-effect between the social media posts and the changed votes. But many perceived this as a poor excuse. 

Senator Wayne and others ended the week by taking up time on confirmation votes and stalling the agenda. The combination of events, and the increasing lack of trust among members of the body, led Speaker Scheer to scold lawmakers in a floor speech Thursday telling them not to take bills personally. Perhaps the timing of this floor speech could have been better. Your Capitol Fly on the Wall noticed that this message appeared to drop like a lead balloon in the Chamber.  

It’s hard to know if the four-day recess period will allow for a cooling off, or if the stalled agenda and hard feelings will continue into this week. It seems like a few of the more progressive-leaning members of the body are feeling that there needs to be some more compromise on a few of their agenda items. Conservatives have a number of things they want to get done this session, including business incentives and tax cuts. They aren’t likely to get either done without broad support in the body. 

Health over Politics 
The news that the federal Title X grant will be going to a nonprofit organization to distribute to providers throughout the state, instead of staying with the state Department of Health and Human Services, is another bit of news sending shockwaves through the Legislature as we enter into the week.  Both the state and nonprofit applied for the funds but the award, $2 million a year for three years, went to the Family Planning Council of Nebraska. The switch in grantee means the Legislature can avoid another floor battle on efforts to limit Title X providers through the state budget

Until Next Time,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall