Legislative Roundup, Week 20

Sine Die

The legislative session will adjourn Sine Die tomorrow with an agenda that contains mostly farewell ceremonial activities, including a closing address from the Governor. The body will convene at 1:00 pm Tuesday.

Click here for a link to the NET live stream of floor debate.

Failed Overrides

After the Governor vetoed roughly $45 million from the state budget, the Legislature attempted to override those line-item vetoes, but the body’s most conservative senators voted against all attempts to prevent the additional cuts. Every one of the motions to override failed to get the 30 required votes for override. Vetoes included $32.5 million for low-income Nebraskans with developmental disabilities or mental health issues. The heartfelt pleas of certain senators and the presence in the Capitol Rotunda of people who have developmental disabilities was not enough to restore funding.

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Legislative Roundup, Week 19

Early Sine Die

In a surprising announcement last week, Speaker Scheer said the legislative session will adjourn Sine Die May 23, rather than June 2 as scheduled. All priority bills will make it to the floor for debate before the Legislature adjourns.

Budget Veto and Revenue Forecast

The Legislature advanced its budget on Final Read last week, but only after some of the body’s most conservative members came close to forcing a government shutdown. The bill needed 33 votes on Final Reading because an emergency clause was necessary to avoid a gap between budget cycles. The Legislature is on watch for vetoes from the Governor. He has already vetoed one item that appropriated $11 million for a new heating and air conditioning system in the Capitol. The Governor says sufficient funding is available to keep the project on schedule. The Lincoln Journal Star reports that the Governor is ready to “slash” the budget, so expect big battles this week.

Revenue numbers continue to come in below projections with April showing a $55.5 million shortfall. But Appropriations Committee members say this poses no immediate problems with the budget package the Legislature just passed.

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Legislative Roundup, Week 18

Big Victories; More Battles

The power of persistent advocacy was on display last week after a series of victories for CSN members. However, no rest is in store. More battles are up this week.

Today’s agenda includes a veto-override attempt on LB75 (Wayne), a bill to eliminate the two-year waiting period for felons to have their voting rights restored upon completion of their sentence. Governor Ricketts previously vetoed this bill to restore voting rights to ex-felons. Nebraskans for Civic Reform has worked for passage of LB75.

Also back on the agenda is LB335 (Riepe), which institutes a freeze on child care subsidies. The bill previously advanced to Select File, which is the second round of debate before Final Reading. Several Coalition members, including the Holland Children’s Movement, would like to see this bill killed. Lowering the rate of subsidies also lowers access to affordable child care.

Also scheduled this week will be Final Reading on the budget bills. In addition, LB651 (Linehan) will make its way onto the agenda after the Nebraska Legislature voted last week to pull the bill out of committee. This bill, which would require that a student be held back in third grade if they do not pass reading proficiency standards, had been held up in committee. Education groups, including Stand for Schools and the Nebraska State Education Association oppose the bill because studies show holding kids back does more harm than good.

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Legislative Roundup, Week 17

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.

Click here for a link to the NET live stream of floor debate.

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.

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Legislative Roundup, Week 16

Budget, Budget, Budget

On Friday, the Appropriations Committee filed an amendment (AM590) to the underlying budget bill, LB327 (Scheer). This amendment provides specific budget details. The budget bill will officially hit the legislative agenda tomorrow afternoon. Debate is expected to carry over into Wednesday and Thursday this week.

One issue of concern to ACLU of Nebraska and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is language to restructure Title X family planning grants to keep funding away from Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics. Advocates are concerned that this would hurt 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. Those concerned about these cuts should prepare to contact their senators and send action alerts.

The Open-Sky Policy Institute is having budget briefings today in Omaha and Thursday in Lincoln. Click here for more details and to register.

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Legislative Roundup, Week 15

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.

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Legislative Round Up, Week 14

The battle over taxes became a lot clearer last week as the Revenue Committee advanced 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.

The Open Sky Policy Institute says as much as 74% of the cuts would go to the state’s top 20 percent of income earners. Open-Sky Policy Institute Executive Director Renee Fry told the Lincoln Journal Star:

“This tax package is irresponsible policy. It does little to help the middle class but will force year over year cuts to higher education, K-12 schools, public safety and other vital services.”

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Legislative Roundup, Week 12

The Clock Ticks

Speaker Scheer has asked senators who have priority bills that are likely to generate extended debate to get advance vote counts. His email states in part:

“To facilitate being able to hear as many priority bills as possible, I intend to rely on the vote counts provided to me for bills that will likely require a cloture vote. If the sponsor of a bill can show me that they have 33 votes, or are within reach of 33, I have no problem spending 6 hours on any bill. However, if a bill is going to go to cloture and is not near the 33 vote threshold it will be scheduled for a specific period of time and then not scheduled on the agenda again until the sponsor can show me that he or she has the votes.”

The specific period for debate is likely to be three hours or less. This puts pressure on senators, staff, lobbyists, and advocates to work vote counts now. With limited time for floor debate, it reduces the ability to run the clock, cut deals and increase vote counts on the floor.

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Legislative Round Up, Week 11

Rules Relief

It took 49 days, but on Friday the Nebraska Legislature finally adopted its permanent rules for the session, leaving existing filibuster rules intact.

As noted in the Omaha World Herald:

“At the center of the rules fight was an effort by conservative senators to make it easier to end a filibuster. Under the rules adopted Friday, the filibuster rule remains unchanged. After a specified number of hours, a bill’s sponsor can seek to cut off debate by invoking cloture. It takes the votes of 33 senators, or two-thirds of the Legislature’s 49 senators, for a cloture motion to succeed. If cloture is reached, senators vote immediately on the bill’s advancement. If not, the bill effectively dies. Lawmakers had considered numerous proposals to change the rules, including some that would lower the threshold for invoking cloture and others that would put the burden on those maintaining the filibuster to find votes.”

The Lincoln Journal Star and NET Radio have additional coverage of the adoption of rules.

Final Week of Hearings

Hearings are winding down this week. Next week the Nebraska Legislature will move to all day floor debate. Because debate on the rules occupied so much time during the early part of the session and there is much work to be done, rumor has it that the Speaker intends to make May an entire month of late nights to help ensure priority bills are heard this session. Expect tired Senators, which can lead to crankiness on the floor.

Three bills of note this week:

Wednesday: The Health and Human Services Committee will hear testimony on LB128 (Groene), which would allow for drug tests of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) applicants who have a prior drug conviction.

The Revenue Committee will hear testimony on LB373 (Schumacher), which undoes bills that reduced revenue by over $5 million over the past decade.

Thursday: The Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on LR27 (Bolz), which is a resolution stating that “the members of the Legislature believe in protecting refugees regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, age or sex and appreciate their contributions to this state.”

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