Almost Halfway Through!
To quote Sen. Chambers on the legislative floor this week, “We’re getting into the meatier part of session now!” Senators are almost halfway through the sixty-day session, and this week was full of big moments. Public hearings on bills are wrapping up, the deadline for senators to designate priority bills has now passed, and senators are busy working together to try to find ways for their bills to move forward, which can often be an uphill battle.
But the big buzz at the end of this week surrounded two bills in the Judiciary Committee on Friday regarding gun control. The two bills (LB958 from Sen. Cavanaugh and LB816 from Sen. McCollister) are unlikely to pass since neither were prioritized, but that didn’t keep hundreds of pro-gun advocates from being bussed into the Capitol for the hearing. The hallways were filled with people, a few of whom were carrying rifles and wearing military-style gear. Some senators allowed their staff to go home, as there was a sense of unease throughout the building. One testifier in opposition brought his rifle up to the testifier table and another expressed white supremacist views.
Aside from the politics of the particular legislation, it restarted a common question among legislative staff over the years – What is allowed in the Capitol building and who gets to decide this? Capitol security warned some offices Friday afternoon that they have no authority to turn people away who were open carrying since open carry is legal in Nebraska. But they have set other rules for the building when it comes to public safety. Our capitol building seems unique among government buildings and other state capitol buildings in that it doesn’t have any metal detectors or secure entrances. This fly anticipates some kind of larger discussion over the interim and perhaps even legislation that would ban weapons of any kind in the Capitol.
Property Tax Relief vs. Funding our Schools
But, back to business. Senators on Wednesday finally debated the much-anticipated LB974, this year’s attempt to provide property tax relief through using higher than expected state revenue funds to lower property valuations and increase state aid to schools. Larger school districts – in legislative districts represented by several urban senators – remained wary and claimed they would actually lose funding if LB974 were to pass. Senators against the bill praised the work of Sen. Linehan over the last year trying to come to a compromise but said they ultimately could not support the bill because it did not ensure that schools would not lose funding.
What complicates this issue is that the formula that decides how much money each school receives from the state is complex and considers several variables, such as how many students a school has, how much federal funding a school receives, and even how much a school spends on transportation. Debate on the floor then devolved to arguing whether schools would, in fact, lose money or not under the current proposed amendments.
Senators debated the bill into Thursday morning, hitting the time limit before it was pulled from the agenda. The Speaker, following his three-hour rule, will put it back on the agenda if Sen. Linehan can show she has the thirty-three votes it would take to break a filibuster. This fly thinks she could be close, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Too Many Bills, Not Enough Time
This also is the time of year where some political maneuvering can begin. Because senators have all designated their priority bills, it was the last week that bills that don’t have a priority appeared on the agenda. On Tuesday, Sen. Pansing Brooks accused other senators of intentionally stalling on a non-controversial bill so that they wouldn’t get to her bills later on the agenda regarding sentencing reform. It seemed to work, as the Speaker started scheduling only priority bills for the rest of the week.
There were several bills that CSN members might be interested in that had hearings this week, but honestly, unless they are prioritized, it is unlikely they will be advanced from committee and debated on the floor this year. In a short session, especially with somewhat controversial issues, sometimes the goal becomes having a successful hearing in order to educate the committee, train advocates, and build momentum on the issue for next year. These bills included bills in the Banking Committee that would limit the cost of insulin, EpiPens, and mammograms, a bill in the Education Committee that would provide free school meals to all students, and bills in the Health and Human Services Committee that would increase SNAP and childcare assistance eligibility. For bills like this to pass, it often takes multiple years of educating committee members and dispelling common misconceptions among more conservative senators. And that is where CSN members can be most valuable!
The bills we know senators will debate on the floor by the end of this session are those that were prioritized by Friday. The only other chance a bill has is if it is amended into a bill that has already been prioritized. Some big topics that senators prioritized include: paying college athletes (LB962 from Sen. Hunt), converting all taxation to a consumption tax (LR300CA from Sen. Erdman), providing tax credits to those who donate to private schools (LB1202 from Sen. Linehan), prohibiting workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation (LB627 from Sen. Pansing Brooks), and limiting smoking using e-cigarette devices (LB840 from Sen. Quick).
Next week is the last week of public hearings, then senators will begin all-day floor debate!
Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall