Legislating: Sometimes it’s like Football Ever watch a football team lose a game because the coaches mismanaged the clock? Similar…
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.
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.
Decision Time Arrives
The big showdown on the budget and taxes will reach its zenith this week, starting with tomorrow’s agenda. The Legislature will make crucial decisions this week that will greatly impact the lives of low-income families and children.
Click here for a link to the NET live stream of floor debate.
Budget Advances with Women’s Health Cuts
Last week, the Nebraska Legislature advanced the main appropriations bill, LB327 (Scheer) to General File (the second of three rounds of debate) WITH a controversial provision to restructure Title X family planning grants to keep funding away from Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics. Advocates, including ACLU of Nebraska, Women’s Fund of Omaha, and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, are extremely concerned about the impact on 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.