Budget Advanced The Legislature advanced the mainline budget bill, LB944, to Final Reading last week with language stating that “no…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last week was the first week of all-day floor debate and it was a flurry of activity with nearly 40 bills advancing. During this phase of the legislative session, things can move quickly. Keep up to date by following the Unicameral Update.
Voting Rights Victory
The Nebraska Legislature gave first-round approval Friday on LB75 (Wayne), which allows those completing prison sentences, parole or probation to have their voting rights immediately restored. Current law provides for a two-year waiting period for restoration of voting rights. Nebraskans for Civic Reform has worked hard to get this bill passed, resulting in a quick and surprising 28-5 vote Friday. For more information, read the news coverage in the Omaha World Herald and Lincoln Journal Star.
Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence Protections Move Forward
Legislators also gave first-round approval last week to LB289 (Pansing Brooks), which increases penalties on human traffickers. After several hours of debate in which some senators expressed reservations about raising mandatory minimums and questioned other aspects of the bill, LB289 advanced on a 42-0 vote. Senator Pansing Brooks committed to working with senators between General File and Select File to address their concerns.
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.
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:
The Nebraska Legislature agreed to a temporary truce last week in the continuing battle over adoption of permanent rules. Under the agreement, the Legislature will work under temporary rules until March 20.. At that time, the battle will resume. The hope is that Senators will spend time between now and then working on some of the noncontroversial, or less controversial, issues that have made it to General File (the first round of floor debate). Freshmen Senators, in particular, will be able to see that most of the bills passed through the Legislature carry broad, bipartisan support. Today’s agenda includes many such bills.
The ongoing battle, coupled with an unusual period without recess days, has had an exhausting impact at the Capitol.