Tension in the Chamber As the Nebraska Legislature adjourned Friday, an extraordinary scene ensued in the Legislative Chamber. The dispute…
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.
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.”
The big news at the end of last week was the prison riot at Tecumseh that resulted in the death of two inmates. While the Governor and Corrections officials downplayed the riot – and even insisted it wasn’t a riot – senators expressed frustration on the floor of the Legislature last Friday. In particular, senators who have worked on the special committees dealing with systemic problems at Corrections in recent years took exception with attempts to minimize the event, pointing to the recent warnings in the LR34 Report, addressing issues of overcrowding, understaffing, prison programming and underfunding and the 2014 LR424 Report, the special investigation conducted after the 2013 murders committed by a former inmate (Nikko Jenkins). Senators involved in those studies urged their colleagues to read the reports.
Every week is important during the legislative session, but this week may be the most determinative one as senators and committees are hitting crunch time to make important decisions about what bills get priority status.
Some of you may have seen the classic “Schoolhouse Rocks” video on how a bill becomes a law in the U.S. In Nebraska, the fundamental process is the same, but there are several procedural determinations that dictate a bill’s chances of even making it to the full body for consideration on the floor. Following are a few of the potential “process hurdles.”
Rules Fight Continues
State Senators spent nearly all of last week’s floor debate fighting over the adoption of permanent rules, and have come to no agreement on how to move forward. As Don Walton notes in his latest Lincoln Journal Star column, the battle is:
“more than just inside baseball” because “changing the number of votes required to sustain a minority filibuster could be a major factor, perhaps even the key factor, in determining or shaping legislative decisions on huge issues like tax cuts, budget priorities, state funding for the University of Nebraska, the very shape of Nebraska’s future.”
In past sessions, sustaining a filibuster has come down to a single vote or two. Expect this battle to continue. Legislative staff are trying to pull together “interesting material” for floor debate.
After a tense first week in the Legislature over chairmanships and committee assignments, the second week saw battles over rules and referencing.
The Rules Committee defeated controversial measures that would have increased the bar for filibusters by requiring 17 votes on the floor to sustain a filibuster, rather than 33 to invoke cloture. The Rules Committee also defeated a measure to end the secret ballot for chairmanship votes. Don Walton highlights the events in the Journal Star.
There has also been tension on the floor as Senators debate motions to move (re-reference) bills relating to guns and abortion to different committees. A motion by Senator Ernie Chambers would move LB 68, (a measure that would strip local authority to regulate guns) from the Government Committee to the Judiciary Committee. Similar bills have been referenced to the Judiciary Committee in the past. Also on the agenda is a motion to reassign a bill dealing with abortion (LB 59) from the Judiciary Committee to the Health and Human Services Committee. These battles may seem mundane, but they carry significance because the Government and Military Affairs and Health and Human Services Committees are widely considered more conservative than the Judiciary Committee. Joanne Young details the battles in this Journal Star story.