Inside the Rotunda: Week 3

The Three-hour Rule Strikes Again...and Again

Senators picked up on Monday right where they left off last week by debating Sen. Crawford’s LB305, which would require businesses to offer paid time off for sick leave and for victims of domestic violence. After about an hour of debate, the speaker removed the bill from the agenda before a vote was taken. Senators for the bill tried a legislative motion (“calling the question”) that would have forced a vote, but that vote came up short 18-25. In order for the speaker to put it back on the agenda, Sen. Crawford now has to show him she has the 33 votes it would take to end a filibuster, which is unlikely considering the vote to end debate was pretty much along party lines.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks’s LB231 faced the same fate at the end of the week. This bill would ensure that attorneys are appointed for juveniles early in the court system unless they choose to no longer be represented. Again, the speaker pulled the bill from the agenda after just three hours of debate. Sen. Pansing Brooks, however, says she only needs to convince one more senator to get to the required 33 votes to get it back on the agenda.

As I buzz around various offices, it seems that this three-hour policy put in place by the speaker is controversial among legislative staff. The time senators must debate a bill before a filibuster ends has shortened dramatically over the years (one staff member said senators used to debate a bill for an entire week before a vote was called!) The three-hour policy is especially egregious since oftentimes there is no vote at all during the three hours before the bill disappears off the agenda. Many senators often know their bill doesn’t have the necessary 33 votes to move to the second round of debate, but their goal is to force a vote to hold senators more accountable for their harmful positions. It also can have the unintended effect of increasing the number of filibusters, since a senator knows they only have to stall for three hours before a bill disappears from the agenda. Senators also are incentivized to filibuster because the required number of yes votes increases from just a majority (25 votes) to two-thirds (33 votes).

However, the speaker and others argue that if a bill doesn’t have the votes to move then senators shouldn’t waste valuable time on an issue. On the minds of many senators and staff is the fact that Speaker Scheer is term-limited at the end of this year. It will be a popular topic of discussion over the interim as people wonder who the new speaker will be and whether they will choose to continue the three-hour rule.

End of Bill Introduction, First Week of Public Hearings

This week also marked the end of bill introduction and the start of public hearings. Senators introduced 482 new bills, all of which will be scheduled for a public hearing during this legislative session.  Senators can introduce as many or as few bills as they want and the number varies widely, from two (Sens. Clements, Albrecht, and Moser) to 33 (Sen. Wayne).

The push for tax reform continued this week, as the Revenue Committee heard LB974, a bill that would use excess state tax revenue to increase state aid to K-12 schools, as well as gradually lower the tax valuation of property for paying school taxes. Several senators met throughout the interim to come up with a way to lower property taxes that has enough support to pass. This is difficult because of the various coalitions you have to satisfy: urban conservatives don’t want to increase revenue through sales or income taxes; urban (and many rural) progressives don’t want to decrease school funding, and rural senators just want to decrease property taxes no matter what the method. These vying factors showed during the hearing as opponents mostly voiced their worries of hurting the budgets of local schools, a key argument considering a large number of senators who represent school districts who would be at risk of losing funding.

LB974 would use a new pot of money up for grabs after state revenue this fall was higher than predicted. But not all senators agree on how to spend the extra money. Some want to just put it directly towards lowering property taxes, but others want to use it to increase the state’s savings in case of an economic downturn or use it to address urgent issues like prison reform or the child welfare system.

That’s it for this week but remember – If there is a bill that is of interest to your organization, NOW is the time to contact the bill’s introducer or legislative staff. It is likely the hearing is scheduled or will be scheduled soon, and a successful hearing is essential to getting the bill voted out of committee to the full legislature.

Until Next Week,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall