All Day Floor Debate Begins
Every year, the end of hearings and the start of all-day debate brings to senators and staff a renewed sense of urgency. The weather gets nicer, the days get longer, and the speaker might even begin scheduling late nights where senators don’t adjourn until late into the evening.
With this change, the combination of senators being in one room together all day along with more contentious bills being debated on the floor often brings the potential for personalities to get in the way of moving bills forward. A somewhat common tactic is senators might take up time on bills – and vote no on bills – because they might be resentful of other senators’ votes on other bills they care about. Session can quickly grind to a halt once this dynamic begins.
For example, Sen. Linehan has said she is having trouble finding enough votes to get her bill (LB974) to address property taxes back on the agenda. If you remember, the Speaker pulled it from the agenda because it had reached its three-hour time limit for the first round of debate and now she must show the Speaker that she has 33 votes before he agrees to put it back up for debate and a vote. This Capitol Fly on the Wall heard that a few bills senators debated this week were opposed simply because the introducer (and others supporting the bill) are against the property tax bill.
This, of course, opens up the door to “vote trading,” where senators will vote for a bill, they might otherwise oppose in order to get more senators to vote for their bills. Most senators are against this tactic and argue that they should vote for or against bills based on their policy merits and implications. Regardless, in the next couple of weeks, it should become clear whether senators will be able to work past these differences or whether things will continue to devolve.
Former Senator Appointed to Nebraska Board of Health
Another fight on the floor this week involved whether to confirm an appointment made by the Governor to the Nebraska Board of Health. Gov. Ricketts appointed former Sen. John Kuehn, a veterinarian and Hastings College professor who served one term from 2014-2018 before deciding not to run for re-election.
Confirming appointments is usually a straightforward process for the Legislature. The Governor appoints someone, collects their application materials, then refers them to the Legislature where committees hold a public hearing. At the hearing, the person applying usually comes in and testifies and committee members can ask them questions. Then, similar to a bill, the committee votes whether to forward their appointment to the full Legislature where senators debate and take a final vote on whether to confirm.
Several senators spoke on Thursday morning against confirming Sen. Kuehn because he has been highly involved in the effort opposing medical marijuana in the state. They argued that voters may vote in November to legalize and because the Board of Health will be tasked with helping to implement the law, that Sen. Kuehn will have a conflict of interest.
Once or twice a year, there will be a controversial pick that senators will debate for longer than normal. However, there are rarely enough votes to block the confirmation. That is what happened this year, as senators voted to confirm Sen. Kuehn on a 32-3 vote, with nine senators present not voting.
Senators Vote to Add Genocide and Slavery to Education Curriculum
Another contentious topic this week involved a bill introduced by Sen. Howard (LB640) that would require the Nebraska Department of Education to include the Holocaust and other genocides in our K-12 education standards. As is common at this point in session, it was amended into an existing bill because otherwise, it would not have a way of moving forward.
Before that, however, Sen. Chambers introduced an amendment that would add slavery, lynching and other racial massacres to the bill. Sen. Chambers’ amendment was eventually adopted on a 34-3 vote but not before some senators made several controversial comments regarding race and slavery. Sen. Groene seemed to take issue with only focusing on slavery involving black people owned by white people and not people of other races.
Tension on this issue was already high as a result of a senator in an earlier debate calling Sen. Vargas and Sen. Wayne (two of the four people of color in the Legislature) “articulate”. Sen. Wayne explained the history of calling people of color “articulate” or “well-spoken” and how it can come across as demeaning.
Ultimately, both Sen. Chambers’ and Sen. Howard’s amendments were adopted, and the larger Education Committee bill passed. The heated debate, however, may be a sign that senators may be less willing to work together as the session progresses.
Campaigning Senators Know Who Their Opponents Will Be
Monday marked the last day that people could file with the Secretary of State to run for a seat in the Legislature in the upcoming November election. That means that the nineteen senators up for re-election now know if they have an opponent and who is running against them. Of note, four senators (Wayne, Briese, Erdman, and Halloran) do not have an opponent, which means they will all be able to serve another four years.
Also standing out, former Sen. Mike Flood will run unopposed to replace Sen. Jim Scheer, who is term-limited. Sen. Flood served in the Legislature from 2005 to 2013, serving as speaker from 2007 to 2013. There are rumors that Sen. Flood will again run to be the next speaker. Both senators are from Norfolk, so there must be something about Norfolk and electing future speakers!
That’s it for this week. Tune in next week as senators begin to pass bills on the final round of debate to pass on to the Governor to sign!
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall