Inside the Rotunda, Week 3

A Sprint or Marathon? 
For legislative staff, the beginning of session always feels like a sprint as you work on last-minute bills, revise drafts and get organized for the hearing season. A number of staff, including our heroes in the Reviser of Statutes office, have put in long days and worked every weekend for at least the last six weeks. After the ten-day introduction period ends this week, session will remain hectic and long hours will continue, but it will begin to feel a little more like a marathon than a sprint. Your Capitol Fly on the Wall is ready for a little change of pace! 

Rules 
The Nebraska Legislature will take up debate today on the adoption of permanent rules, including a few new proposals advanced by the Rules Committee.  The most contentious issue may be time allowed for debate before a motion can be considered to end a filibuster. One of the proposals would set six hours of debate for the first round, three for the second and 90 minutes for the third. The Speaker has generally followed these standards. However some are not a fan of the discretion he has exercised to pull a bill from the agenda at three hours and make introducers prove they have the votes in order to bring a bill back for debate at a later date. 

Two years ago, it took the Legislature 49 days to adopt rules. It doesn’t appear we are headed for anything like that this go around, but some Capitol insiders are waiting for the current period of goodwill in the body to receive its first real test. 

Hearings Begin
Senators will continue to introduce new bills until they adjourn Wednesday, but committee hearings are already set to begin today.  

Merriam Webster defines a hearing as “an opportunity to be heard, to present one’s case, or to be generally known or appreciated.” The Legislature’s website offers a few tips on how testifiers can be truly “appreciated” at hearings.  

Prison Reform 
It was technically a briefing, but it had all the tension of a hearing last Friday as senators pressed Nebraska Department of Corrections Director Scott Frakes on the prison overcrowding crisis. The big reveal was that Frakes doesn’t expect Nebraska to meet the July 2020 statutory deadline to get our prisons to 140% of design capacity. If we are at 140% on July 1stof next year, an overcrowding emergency shall be determined to exist and the Board of Parole shall immediately consider or reconsider offenders for accelerated parole until which time we are at 125% capacity. But, the Governor’s Office is now disputing that statute requires the state to get to 140% by July 2020. All of this is taking place in the midst of a lawsuit from ACLU of Nebraska that says the overcrowding crisis is violating the rights of inmates. With Nebraska prisons now at 162% of design capacity, expect prison reform to join taxes, Medicaid expansion and the budget as some of the biggest issues confronting the Legislature this session. 

Speaking of Taxes
The Journal Star has a story up this morning on Senator McCollister’s LB276, which is a proposal to abolish an income tax break put into place three decades ago that benefits a small number of high income Nebraskans. The break provides almost $83 million in tax breaks to those high earners. 

Please stay warm and safe out there (brrr), 

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall