An Exhausting Week The Nebraska Legislature had its first late night of the session last week as Senators battled over…
Digging in for a Fight Some Capitol insiders have described the upcoming legislative week as the one that could “blow…
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.
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.”
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 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.