Gearing Up for the Big-Ticket Items
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall made it through this week’s cold temperatures and is ready to report on another busy week. It’s the week before senators must name their priority bills, meaning we’re close to knowing what big issues will be on the agenda in the next two months. Many senators have already designated their priorities and those who haven’t are being lobbied hard by their fellow senators to include important topics that might get left out.
Many senators were antsy to head out of town Thursday for a well-deserved four-day weekend, especially to rest up before debate this week on the anticipated property tax relief bill (LB974). Recently, the Revenue Committee voted it out of committee and named it a committee priority bill. Despite Chairwoman Linehan’s efforts to bring consensus, two senators (Crawford and McCollister) voted no, foreshadowing potential opposition from the more progressive senators.
A little math shows the moving parts. A bill needs 33 votes to break a filibuster, meaning 17 senators who stick together in opposition can effectively kill a bill. There are 30 Republicans and 18 Democrats (plus Sen. Chambers, an Independent), but because of our unique nonpartisan system, it’s common for senators of both parties to switch up their vote. Strategy on many bills, then, becomes a game of how many moderates of both parties you can move to your side.
The issue of lowering property taxes can bring about unusual coalitions, however, as senators wrestle with the desire to lower taxes for constituents while still adequately funding our schools. Many school districts remain opposed to the current version of LB974, which tells me this bill still faces an uphill battle. The bill will most likely be debated Wednesday morning, so tune in if you want to see some heated exchanges and potential hurt feelings that could slow progress on other issues before session ends.
Childcare Assistance and Racial Bias Training Pass First Round of Debate
In other news, on Tuesday, senators surprisingly voted Sen. Bolz’s LB329 through on the first round of debate. This bill would keep more families eligible for childcare assistance, a benefit many working low-income families rely on. The bill got through on the narrowest of votes, 25-7 with 14 senators present but not voting (25 votes are needed if a bill isn’t being filibustered). The room was tense as it became obvious it would be a close vote. Adding to the drama, a couple of senators were absent that morning who would have voted for the bill. Luckily, Sen. Stinner added his yes vote at the last second to push the bill through. It will have to make it through two more rounds of votes then would need 30 votes to override a potential veto from the Governor, who has opposed the expansion of assistance in the past.
Also of note on the floor this week was the passage on first round of Sen. Chambers’s priority bill LB924, which would require law enforcement to increase training and reporting on racial bias and racial profiling. The bill easily passed on a 43-0 vote, with several senators commending Sen. Chambers for his work on race issues over his 46-year span as a state senator. It will likely be the last debate on legislation introduced by Sen. Chambers since the 82-year-old is term-limited at the end of this year, although he teased several times, he might be back to run again in four years.
Watch Out for Christmas Trees
As many of the big public hearings are completed, committees are turning their work to forming their committee priority legislation. Each committee technically only gets two priorities, but many attach several related bills onto each one. This is when a lot of wheeling and dealing happens amongst senators, as they negotiate what goes into each package of bills. Speaker Scheer has warned committee chairs not to put more than five or six bills into each package, but this fly knows of at least two packages already that might break this rule. Speaker Scheer has also told committee chairs to show more transparency in committee documents on these packages. You can see each committee priority on the list of priority bills and the committee statement on each bill’s web page will show what bills have been attached to it.
I’ll end there, for now, readers. Until next week!
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall