Legislative Roundup, Wrap Up

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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Legislative Roundup, Week 16

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.

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Legislative Roundup, Week 15

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.

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Legislative Round Up, Week 14

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.”

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Legislative Roundup, Week 12

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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Priority Threats

Since senator and committee priority bills have been announced, let’s look at a few of the bills that could have negative impacts on low-income and marginalize people this session.

LB337 (Smith) – In what many advocates think is our largest threat in terms of budget and taxes, Senator Lindstrom prioritized the Governor’s income tax proposal, aimed at giving substantial tax cuts to the wealthiest Nebraskans. In a time of drastic cuts to curb our budget deficit, this bill seeks to take even more funds away from priorities, when the state isn’t even meeting its current obligations, like funding our corrections system. Advocates are preparing to put all hands on deck to fight this one.

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Legislative Roundup, Week 9

Prison Riot

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.

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Legislative Roundup, Week 8

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.”

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Legislative Round Up, Week 5

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.

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Legislative Roundup, Week 4

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.

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