One-Third of the Way Done
We’re one-third of the way through the legislative session and things are ramping up. It’s the point in session where senators start to get a little testy with each other, but there was a brief moment of levity on Thursday morning as senators complained about the wireless internet being down. Sen. Groene, a rather gruff conservative member, joked with Sen. Chambers saying, “You would be this upset if they took the Pony Express away!” Sen. Chambers, whose first year in the Legislature was in 1971, is known for being the only senator who doesn’t use email.
It’s a reminder that there are only forty-nine senators in total and personalities and relationships between senators can play a huge role in whether legislation passes or doesn’t pass and whether compromises can be made. Add to that the dampened role of party politics in the state and it really opens the door to some surprising outcomes that may not happen in other conservative states.
Workers’ Rights, Affordable Housing, and Taxes are Big Issues in this Week’s Hearings
The Business and Labor Committee on Monday heard several bills that would aim to help workers. Sen. Hunt’s LB915 would increase the tipped minimum wage from $2.13 to $4.50 by 2022. There were no surprises with the testifiers, as the AFL-CIO and other workers testified in support, and business groups testified against. There are probably enough votes to get it voted out of committee, but it may stall since the same proposal died on the floor just last year when it reached the full body. It’s been a tough issue to get any traction on, even though a version of it is introduced most years.
The committee also heard LB1016, a bill from Sen. Matt Hansen that would increase compliance and enforcement of our state’s wage laws in order to prevent wage theft and Sen. Cavanaugh’s LB1060, a bill that would prohibit workplace discrimination based on hair textures and hairstyles. Both of these hearings went smoothly and probably have the votes to make it out of committee. For this to happen, the committee chair must call a closed executive session where a formal vote is called. Most committees will simply schedule executive sessions as needed, so it’s hard to predict when bills will be voted out of committee. Expect more movement coming up, however, as the deadline to designate priority bills gets closer.
On Tuesday, the Urban Affairs Committee heard several bills regarding affordable housing. Sen. Vargas’s LB1155 would direct state funds to low-income neighborhoods for the construction of new or rehabilitation of existing middle-income housing. Sen. Matt Hansen’s LB794 would make all land zoned for single-family detached housing eligible for multi-family homes (up to quadplexes). Finally, the committee heard LB866, Sen. Wayne’s bill that would allow cities to offer regulatory incentives to increase the number of affordable housing projects. Watch these bills closely in the coming weeks; It is possible these bills will merge together in some way and be prioritized by the Urban Affairs Committee (in addition to senator priorities, each committee gets to designate two priority bills of their choosing).
On Wednesday, the Revenue Committee heard some interesting bills that would affect low-income families. Sen. Brewer’s LB819 would exempt some social security payments from being taxed as income over five years. He argued this would provide some relief for the two-thirds of beneficiaries where this is their only income. The committee also heard LB891, introduced by Sen. Hilgers, which would provide an income tax credit for workers who work more than forty hours in a given week. These types of bills tend to stall in the Revenue Committee, which hears several bills every year trying to pass tax breaks for various groups of people. We’ll have to wait and see if either get a priority designation, which would help their chances.
On Thursday, the Revenue Committee also held a hearing on an amendment to LB720, the bill that would create a new state tax incentives program for businesses in Nebraska. Rural senators were concerned that the bill would benefit only urban areas and this amendment is meant to get their support by adding benefits that would target rural manufacturing companies. This bill is closely tied to the issue of lowering property taxes since many senators have said they won’t vote for one without the other also passing. This has created a potential coalition of urban and rural senators that might mean both have enough to pass.
Left out of this amendment, however, is desired changes from progressive groups who largely believe the one billion dollars could be spent more wisely elsewhere. Some more progressive senators have asked that LB720 be amended to ensure that businesses who receive the tax breaks offer worker benefits like good pay, full-time hours, health insurance, and paid time off, but those have mostly been left out of the new amendment.
Hearings to Watch Next Week
Here are some bill hearings coming up that may be of interest to CSN members:
- LB1040 (Vargas) will be heard Tuesday in the Agriculture Committee. This bill would appropriate funds to the Department of Agriculture to administer a state food insecurity grant program.
- LB1157 (Vargas) and LB1207 (McCollister) are two bills in the Executive Board that will be heard Wednesday at noon. Both are bills that would change the redistricting process next year, which redraws the lines for state and federal representatives.
- LB892 (Hilgers) and LR300CA (Erdman) will be heard by the Revenue Committee on Wednesday and would affect the way Nebraskans are taxed.
Would You Vote for More Senators?
Up for debate on the floor, this week was Sen. Scheer’s LR279CA, which would allow voters to decide if future Legislatures could add more legislative districts, increasing the number of senators from 49 to up to 55. Opponents (mostly Democrats) were able to successfully filibuster the bill, meaning it won’t be scheduled for debate again until Sen. Scheer can get 33 senators on board. Most senators speaking against the bill were worried about the cost and logistics of having more senators and were concerned about how it would affect redistricting in future years.
That’s it for now! Tune in next week to see what bills have been prioritized since, more than likely, bills without a priority by February 21 will be dead for the year.
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall