That’s a Wrap
The 105th Legislature, 1st session came to an end much as it started, with plenty of crossed arms and entrenched feet. A lengthy rules debate over the number of votes needed for a filibuster occupied much of the first two months of session before a compromise was finally reached. A “gang of 27” that held up the rules in the early part of session joined back up again at the end to force budget cuts that progressives considered draconian because of their impact on vulnerable people. However, nestled between the periods of deep political polarization, Coalition members had much to cheer and much to breathe sighs of relief over in a session that may be remembered as much for what didn’t happen as what did. Following are just some of the most significant highlights of the session.
Budget and Taxes
Based on ever-worsening revenue shortfalls, budget cuts were inevitable this session. Coalition members worked throughout the session to protect funding for our state’s children and families. In the end, the Governor line-item vetoed an additional $56.5 million out of the budget, aimed at low-income Nebraskans with developmental disabilities and mental health problems, child welfare and probation services. The Legislature couldn’t find the 30 votes needed for an override.
The Omaha World Herald has a piece about how the Governor’s heavy spending in legislative races in 2016 paid off for him in the veto override votes. Keep a watch on continued budget battles as the Governor may call a special session later this year if revenue continues to fall below projections.
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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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Since senator and committee priority bills have been announced, let’s look at a few of the bills our members have been fighting for that could have positive impacts on low-income and marginalize people this session.
LB173 (Morfeld) – Senator Bolz came through in a big way last week for LGBT advocates, making LB173 her priority bill for the session. This bill makes it unlawful to discriminate against LGBT individuals in employment. Current law prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, marital status or national origin. Twenty other states have protections that cover sexual orientation and gender identify, others only protect sexual orientation and others have bans that protect only public employees. Currently, Nebraska law offers no employment protections for LGBT individuals.
LB447 (Chambers) – This priority bill from Senator Chambers advanced on General File last week with a compromise amendment by Senator Linehan. As amended, the bill eliminates certain mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses. As the Omaha World Herald notes:
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