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.
Early Sine Die
In a surprising announcement last week, Speaker Scheer said the legislative session will adjourn Sine Die May 23, rather than June 2 as scheduled. All priority bills will make it to the floor for debate before the Legislature adjourns.
Budget Veto and Revenue Forecast
The Legislature advanced its budget on Final Read last week, but only after some of the body’s most conservative members came close to forcing a government shutdown. The bill needed 33 votes on Final Reading because an emergency clause was necessary to avoid a gap between budget cycles. The Legislature is on watch for vetoes from the Governor. He has already vetoed one item that appropriated $11 million for a new heating and air conditioning system in the Capitol. The Governor says sufficient funding is available to keep the project on schedule. The Lincoln Journal Star reports that the Governor is ready to “slash” the budget, so expect big battles this week.
Revenue numbers continue to come in below projections with April showing a $55.5 million shortfall. But Appropriations Committee members say this poses no immediate problems with the budget package the Legislature just passed.
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.”
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.”