Big Issues Await
The Nebraska Legislature is more than two-thirds of the way through session and senators continue to roll through a number of bills that have a strong consensus of support in the body, but some of the largest questions await. A number of senators are happy with the advancement of their priority bills, but in the grand scheme of things, it feels a bit like the calm before the storm. Some of the big issues on the horizon include the budget, taxes, business incentives and prison overcrowding. Medicaid Expansion and Medical Cannabis are other matters brewing. The Omaha World Herald ran a good story over the weekend on the status of some of these issues.
This will be a big week for the Appropriations Committee as the State Forecasting Board will meet and provide updated revenue projections on Thursday. These projections will be the first ones since the March flooding and the April tax collections, but Committee members remain hopeful that the numbers won’t change much from the last projections. The Appropriations Committee expects to deliver the budget bills on May 2, with debate beginning the following week. The preliminary budget includes payment rate increases for service providers, including Medicaid and child welfare providers. Service providers took a big hit in the last couple of budget cycles, so increases in these rates will be welcome. The Appropriations Committee is also making a preliminary recommendation to increase funding for problem solving courts. Lawmakers are hoping these investments would help reduce prison overcrowding.
For more information on the budget process, visit the Legislature’s website.
The Art of Compromise
One of the things often underappreciated by casual observers of the Legislature is the work that goes into compromise. When senators bring highly controversial bills that make it on the floor, it presents opponents of the bill with two basic choices. They can fight it with a filibuster and try to hold 17 senators together to prevent cloture (a vote to end debate), or they can work with the senator who brings it to make the bill acceptable, or more acceptable.
Sometimes the gap between sides can seem insurmountable. Such was the case this last week with LB155 (Brewer), which sought to make it harder for wind energy developers to obtain eminent domain for wind energy development by essentially redefining the term “public use.” The Legislature advanced this bill on General File last week, but its course forward has been a rather unusual one. Senator Brewer prioritized this bill early in session. A vote was taken early in the debate as Senator Brewer thought he had the votes to advance it. However, it was a strategic miscalculation as the bill did not receive the votes to advance, leading many to conclude it was dead. Senator Robert Clements then decided he would make the bill his priority, which the rules allowed. So the bill was back on the agenda this last week, but opposition remained strong from the environmental community and wind development advocates. A filibuster was in the works. Senators Patty Pansing Brooks and Wendy DeBoer spent hours working with Senator Brewer and his staff on a compromise that put in a safeguard to give landowners the opportunity to rebut the presumption of public use. Both sides were happy with a compromise that at one time seemed impossible. Naturally, these kinds of compromises create good will around the body. Senators are always hopeful that one good deed may create another. Such is politics.
Until Next Time,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall