Flurry of Activity
Last week was the first week of all-day floor debate and it was a flurry of activity with nearly 40 bills advancing. During this phase of the legislative session, things can move quickly. Keep up to date by following the Unicameral Update.
Voting Rights Victory
The Nebraska Legislature gave first-round approval Friday on LB75 (Wayne), which allows those completing prison sentences, parole or probation to have their voting rights immediately restored. Current law provides for a two-year waiting period for restoration of voting rights. Nebraskans for Civic Reform has worked hard to get this bill passed, resulting in a quick and surprising 28-5 vote Friday. For more information, read the news coverage in the Omaha World Herald and Lincoln Journal Star.
Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence Protections Move Forward
Legislators also gave first-round approval last week to LB289 (Pansing Brooks), which increases penalties on human traffickers. After several hours of debate in which some senators expressed reservations about raising mandatory minimums and questioned other aspects of the bill, LB289 advanced on a 42-0 vote. Senator Pansing Brooks committed to working with senators between General File and Select File to address their concerns.
Several other bills were amended onto LB289 to protect victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, including LB178 (Bolz), which authorizes protection orders for victims of sexual assault, mirroring existing protections for victims of domestic violence. LB191 (Pansing Brooks) was also amended on to LB289. This bill establishes a process for individuals to refile for protection orders in order to eliminate gaps in protection. The Women’s Fund of Omaha is the leading advocacy organization for LB289. Click here to listen to NET Radio coverage of LB289.
Education Omnibus Advanced
The Legislature also advanced LB512 (Education Committee) last week, which includes LB123 (Pansing Brooks), which establishes a cash fund to provide tuition reimbursement assistance and access to records for students attending for-profit universities that terminate their operations. Nebraska Appleseed led advocacy efforts for this bill.
Also amended into LB512 is LB235 (Walz), which allows Summer Food Program recipients to expend the full amount provided when expanding or starting a child nutrition program. Voices for Children has been the lead advocate on this legislation. This bill makes it easier for sponsors to apply for this program.
Budget and Taxes
April will be the big month for budget decisions. The Nebraska budget is due by April 24, so this is when the budget will hit the floor for debate, The Open Sky Policy Institute is planning budget briefings later this month in Omaha and Lincoln. In the meantime, read Open Sky’s online budget brief series for a primer.
The Revenue Committee is still working on a tax cut package, which is expected to come out soon. There remains debate in the committee over property taxes, including LB640 (Groene), which would lower the levy lid. The Education Committee is currently in a holding pattern right now over LB409 (Groene), until it sees what the Revenue Committee does on LB640. LB409 would slow the growth in state aid to schools. Some members of the Education Committee want to ensure that public schools aren’t hit too hard in the balance of those two bills.
Meanwhile, agriculture leaders remain concerned about a focus on income taxes over property taxes. According to the Nebraska Radio Network:
“Gov. Pete Ricketts is trying to calm Nebraska agricultural leaders’ fears about what type of tax relief package might come out of this legislative session. The Nebraska Agriculture Leaders Working Group says a Revenue Committee proposal to take money from the property tax credit fund and use it to fund income tax cuts is “the exact opposite” of what the group wants to see done. They want the legislature to focus on property tax relief. But Ricketts says a cut to the state income tax is a key to tax cut legislation moved forward.”
The state will have a better idea of revenue projections when the forecasting board meets on April 26.
Bills on the Agenda
Today, the Nebraska Legislature will take up a number of bills on Select File before heading back to General File debate.
“The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.”