Line in the Sand Drama erupted in the Nebraska Legislature as senators drew a line in the sand to continue…
Tension in the Chamber As the Nebraska Legislature adjourned Friday, an extraordinary scene ensued in the Legislative Chamber. The dispute…
What’s Recess? On scheduled recess days, like today, the business of the Nebraska Legislature continues. Legislative staffers take the opportunity…
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 landscape for the rest of the session became a lot clearer last week as advocates learned which bills now have senator and committee priority status. Click here for an explanation on priorities. The priority list isn’t complete, as the Speaker will soon announce (likely early this week) his selection of 25 additional priority bills.
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.”
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.
The Power of the Purse
Last week served as a preview of the future budget battle for the biennium budget as the state grapples with a $900 million revenue shortfall.
State Senators expressed their grievances last week over the Governor’s deficit budget cuts (cuts he wants to make to the current year budget that was already approved), before ultimately advancing them to Select File (the second round of debate before Final Reading). Senator Bob Krist and others criticized the Governor for withholding appropriations to state agencies. Others also criticized the Governor for not calling the Legislature into a special session to address the deficit cuts.
The Nebraska Constitution gives the Legislature the “power of the purse.” The Legislature was able to make significant changes to the Governor’s proposals, including protection of funds to support people with developmental disabilities and funds to reduce prison overcrowding.
Hearings Watch, Budgets and Taxes, and Rules
While the period for bill introductions has ended and hearings are in full swing, partisan rumblings still hang in the balance over legislative rules. Although the Rules Committee previously rejected a change that would have required at least 17 senators to vote no to sustain a filibuster, there is still a possibility that the Legislature could make a change on the floor as early as today. As noted by Don Walton in his Journal Star column over the weekend, if the majority goes that direction, it “would be viewed by the legislative minority as piling on after an opening day in which they were steamrolled on a series of leadership votes.”
Senator Adam Morfeld has taken up the mantle on Medicaid Expansion, introducing LB441 last week to expand coverage to 90,000 more Nebraskans.