Decision Time Arrives
The big showdown on the budget and taxes will reach its zenith this week, starting with tomorrow’s agenda. The Legislature will make crucial decisions this week that will greatly impact the lives of low-income families and children.
Budget Advances with Women’s Health Cuts
Last week, the Nebraska Legislature advanced the main appropriations bill, LB327 (Scheer) to General File (the second of three rounds of debate) WITH a controversial provision to restructure Title X family planning grants to keep funding away from Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics. Advocates, including ACLU of Nebraska, Women’s Fund of Omaha, and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, are extremely concerned about the impact on preventative services and basic health care for low income and rural women as many patients rely on these health centers as their primary health care provider.
The Central Health Center in Grand Island, People’s Family Health in North Platte, Planned Parenthood in Lincoln and Omaha and Family Health Services in Tecumseh, Lincoln and Crete would all lose Title X funding, impacting more than 14,000 patients. Senators Schumacher, Pansing Brooks and others led efforts to restore the funding provision, but were unsuccessful at amending the bill on General File before the bill went to cloture and advanced. The environment remains ripe for compromise as several conservative, rural senators have indicated they are worried about the effects of these cuts to the people in their districts. The more senators hear from worried constituents, the greater the likelihood that the bill will be amended during the second round of debate. The Omaha World Herald has coverage of the advancement of the bill. The Public News Service also has information. LB327 will be back on the agenda this week.
Meanwhile, the State Forecasting Board had more bad news for the State last week as an additional $50 million will now be needed to balance the budget. The University of Nebraska appears to be a target to make up the difference.
Governor’s Tax Plan Returns to Agenda
The Nebraska Legislature will once again take up LB461 (Smith), a package of income and property tax cuts that would cost the state $458 million a year when fully implemented. The Legislature previously spent three hours debating the bill, but it did not have the votes to overcome a filibuster. According to the Lincoln Journal Star, Speaker Scheer said he would be surprised if the vote is not close. The Open-Sky Policy Institute has more information on what LB461 would mean for the “Real Taxpayers of Nebraska.”
Final Reading on LB427/LB428
Scheduled for Final Reading today is LB427 (Vargas), which extends breastfeeding protections to a mother attending a public, private, denominational or parochial schools and requires the school to provide a private or appropriate facility of accommodation for milk expression and storage. LB428 (Vargas) was amended onto LB427, which requires each school district to adopt a written policy which provides for standards and guidelines to accommodate pregnant and parenting students. This was a recommendation of the Intergenerational Poverty Task Force, which included many CSN members and was supported by CSN through facilitation assistance.
Voting Rights Veto
Governor Ricketts vetoed a bill last week that would restore voting rights to ex-felons. LB75 (Wayne), would eliminate the two-year waiting period for felons to have their voting rights restored upon completion of sentence. Nebraskans for Civic Reform worked for passage of LB75. According to the Omaha World Herald:
“State Senator Justin Wayne of Omaha, the sponsor of Legislative Bill 75, said he would file a motion to override the veto. An override requires votes from at least 30 of the 49 senators. Wayne has some work cut out for him. On Monday, the bill passed on a 27-13 vote with seven senators abstaining and two with excused absences.”
Motion to Pull Reading Bill
The Nebraska Legislature will consider pulling LB651 (Linehan) out of the Education Committee and onto the floor for consideration by the body. This bill, which would require that a student be held back in third grade if they do not pass reading proficiency standards, has been held up in committee. Education groups such as Stand for Schools and the Nebraska State Education Association oppose the bill because they argue holding a child back does more harm than good.
The debate to pull the bill will open up questions about legislative process. Expect some fireworks during this debate.
State Aid to Education
The Nebraska Legislature passed LB409 (Groene) to Final Reading last week, which appropriates funding for state aid to education. Senator Kolowski tried and failed to amend the bill to allow school districts to exceed their property tax levies. LB409 slows the growth of state aid to school to 2.1 percent per year during the next biennium.
Whiteclay Liquor Stores Closed
For those interested in news concerning the closure of the Whiteclay liquor stores, there was drama Thursday as a judge vacated the Liquor Control Commission’s decision to deny license to the stores. However, the Attorney General quickly appealed the decision, meaning the stores are, at least temporarily if not permanently, closed. Meanwhile, the Legislature advanced LB407 (Pansing Brooks) to the Governor last week. This bill establishes the Whiteclay Public Health Emergency Task Force to look at treatment, detox and economic development opportunities to help the people of both Sheridan County and the Pine Ridge Reservation. The Holland Children’s Movement is among the organizations who have supported the establishment of this task force.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”