17 is Key
As the week of April 17th kicks off, the number “17” may prove crucial as the Nebraska Legislature debates a series of enormously consequential tax and education bills throughout the week that may come down to whether 17 senators participate in filibusters. What to watch for:
Tomorrow: First up is LB640 (Groene), which takes $224 million out of the Property Tax Credit Fund and sends it as state aid to school districts with the heaviest reliance on property taxes. As noted in the Lincoln Journal Star, LB640 would ease property taxes in rural areas while increasing property taxes in urban areas.
Wednesday: The Legislature will debate LB409 (Groene), which revises the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA). This is the bill that establishes state aid to education for the next biennium. Education advocates including Stand for Schools will be working closely on this as it hits the floor. If LB640 passes, expect a bigger fight on LB409. Advocates believe the combination of these two bills would be devastating for public education. The Legislature is scheduled to go late into the evening on Wednesday.
Friday: The Legislature will debate LB461 (Smith), a package of income and property tax cuts that, as amended, would cost the state $458 million a year when fully implemented. The bill includes elements of LB337 (Smith) and LB338 (Brasch), the Governor’s tax plan proposals, as well as elements of LB452 (Lindstrom). Amended together in LB461, this creates a mega tax cut plan geared primarily toward wealthy Nebraskans. This policy brief from The Open Sky Policy Institute highlights the effects of these changes on Nebraska families.
Medical Marijuana and Lethal Injection
Amidst the battles over taxes and education funding, the Nebraska Legislature will also debate LB622 (Wishart) Wednesday. LB622 adopts the Medical Cannabis Act. ACLU of Nebraska is a lead advocate on this bill.
Also Wednesday, the Legislature will debate LB661 (Kuehn), which would prevent disclosure of manufacturers or suppliers of lethal injection drugs.
The Nebraska budget will hit the legislative floor next Tuesday.
Also scheduled next week is LB595 (Groene), which provides for the use of physical force or physical restraint or removal from a class in response to student behavior. As written, Voices for Children has indicated that they have problems with this bill and its ramification for student safety.
Filibusters are working differently this year under new approach by Speaker Scheer. As highlighted in the Omaha World Herald, here is how it works:
“After three hours of debate on a controversial bill, the Legislature moves to the next bill on the agenda. During what amounts to a timeout — which can last days or weeks — supporters and opponents can talk to their colleagues before eventually providing the speaker with their vote counts. If a bill’s sponsor can show at least 33 votes to win cloture, the speaker will reschedule the bill on another day for up to three additional hours of debate. If not, the bill receives no more discussion.”
The new rule is already having its effect as several bills have gone into what some are referring to as “La-La Land.” This means battles that have already taken place could come back again later in the session if an introducer rounds up enough support for the bill. Bills currently in “La-La Land” include the “Convention of States” bill, LR6 (Ebke) and LB173 (Morfeld), which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Already, one significant bill came back for debate and passed after it failed to move forward in the initial three hours. LB68 (Hilgers), which preempts local gun regulations, moved forward last week after Senator Hilgers indicated to the Speaker that he had the 33 votes to end debate. LB68 received exactly 33 votes on the cloture motion and the bill has moved to Select File, the second round of three.
A bill that does not get voted on and goes to “La-La Land” remains alive since the Legislature hasn’t taken official action on it. Because of this, the bill would carry over into next session.
The bottom line: Much will hang in limbo as the session continues.
Last week had some disappointing news on a couple fronts.
LB358 (McCollister), which would have increased eligibility for low-income Nebraska residents to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), fell just one vote short of passage last week. The measure would have increased eligibility to 1,840 households.
LB158 (Pansing Brooks), a bill that would require that juveniles be appointed attorneys when a county attorney files a petition, ran out of time and failed to advance after a bracket motion from Senator Hughes. The vote count looks very tight and Senator Pansing Brooks says she will keep working to get to 33 and try to bring the bill back for debate. LB158 is important because kids come to court without an attorney and waive their right to a lawyer without understanding what they are doing, which can result in harsh consequences, like detention and out-of-home placement.
“Nothing could be worse than the fear that one had given up too soon, and left one unexpended effort that might have saved the world.”